The rise of environmental violent extremism could be merely a matter of time

There is a lot of debate these days about what is more important when it comes to terrorism: Islamist extremism (i.e. jihadis) or right wing extremists.  The truth is that both pose a threat but which one is scarier depends on what part of the world you are talking about.  In the US it is clearly the far right, as recent pipe bombs and shootings (synagogues, yoga studios, grocery stores, etc., etc., etc.) show.  In Canada it is the opposite, the work of Professors Perry and Scrivens notwithstanding.

(As a side note, the Dutch security service, AIVD, noted recently that the far right scene had risen ‘slightly’ of late whereas the Dutch spies have identified 500 jihadis and more than 1,000 ‘sympathisers’).  You tell me where the bulk of investigation resources should be placed.)

Lost in all this brouhaha is what danger, if any, is posed by the far left, in this case environmental activists.  A recently ATIPed CSIS report stated that “many members of the environmental and Indigenous communities see the federal purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline as a betrayal, and suggests that could intensify opposition to expanding the project.”  CSIS,and I am pretty sure other Canadian government departments as well are worried about the potential of violent action as the ‘indignation’ level of activists rises.  As they should be.

I have been saying for years that the environmental movement, or rather a small part thereof, is ripe for violence and that this is not hard to fathom.  Activists believe that if we collectively do not take immediate action to dial back carbon emissions and seek alternative energy sources that the very planet is in danger: a recent report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the Earth has until 2030 to seriously change its ways before we hit ‘catastrophic’ consequences.  I am no scientist but I happen to put my faith in those who are.  We are playing with fire here.

So, getting back to environmentalists, is it a stretch to hypothesise that if we do not get cracking soon they will shift tactics from protests, pipeline blocking and similar low key and peaceful-ish action?  Is violence not a real possibility?  Of course it is!  If you are convinced that idiots like Donald Trump are ignoring dire warnings that are flashing red, and you happen to want to live a little longer and leave a world behind for your kids and grandkids that is at least liveable, is there not a good chance you will decide to ‘blow shit up’ or worse?  Is this fiction?  No, it is not.

It is for this reason that CSIS looks at these kinds of issues.  Not everyone is happy with this.  Josh Paterson, executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, has expressed ‘strong concern’ about the spy service’s monitoring of activists.  Come again?  Read the CSIS Act, sections 2 and 12. Here Josh, I’ll cut and paste it here for you:

  •  The Service shall collect, by investigation or otherwise, to the extent that it is strictly necessary, and analyse and retain information and intelligence respecting activities that may on reasonable grounds be suspected of constituting threats to the security of Canada (emphasis added)….(which include) activities within or relating to Canada directed toward or in support of the threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property for the purpose of achieving a political, religious or ideological objective (again, emphasis added) within Canada or a foreign state.

Would the blowing up of pipelines fit under this part of the Act?  Does a bear poop in the woods?

Yes, there is a fine line between lawful dissent and criminal activity.  CSIS gets that.  And yet it has a legislative mandate to look into these possibilities.  No one is outside the law Josh.  Besides, wouldn’t the BCCLU want to NOT have its reputation tainted by some moron who chucks a bomb?

I do not know whether there will be serious violence from environmental activists.  I hope not.  But if there is, and there is a real risk of loss of life, don’t we want CSIS to be on the scene so it can alert law enforcement to stop it?  I may be biased as a former spy but I am ok with this.

Are you Josh?

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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