Today in terrorism: October 20, 2014

It is indeed rare that I find myself writing about terrorism in my own country. I thankfully live in a land where political or religious violence is infrequent and even on those occasions where someone, or several someones, is plotting to do something violent we are blessed with a competent set of counter terrorism agencies that nab the culprits before they can do any harm (I am referring here to CSIS and the RCMP). For the record, I was a very small part of a team that played in a role in foiling several such attacks in the 2000s and 2010s.

Alas, the world is not always as we want it and even the best organisations cannot prevent all criminal acts from taking place. On this day in 2014 Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent of the Canadian Armed Forces was killed when he was struck by a car driven right at him by Martin Couture-Rouleau, a convert to Islam who waited for the uniformed officer in a parking lot in a suburb of Montreal.

Couture-Rouleau was a man known to authorities as a ‘jihadi sympathiser’ so much so that his passport had been seized as the RCMP suspected he intended to join a terrorist organisation abroad (probably Islamic State). He was, according to a friend, “really mad that Canada actually supported the American bombing of [ISIS] in Syria and Iraq so…that was the main motive in killing that Canadian soldier.” A case of ‘as you kill there so I will kill there’.

So if the Mounties knew he was an IS wannabe why did they not arrest him beforehand? A very good question and not one that I can answer without having access to the complete investigation. I suspect that there simply was not enough evidence to lay charges that would lead to a conviction.

More importantly here is the issue of what to do with wannabe IS terrorists. Some say “let them go if they want – they’ll probably just get droned anyway”. This, however, is an untenable position as no country should knowingly allow a terrorist to travel to kill people abroad. On the other hand, preventing travel by seizing a passport means that person is still on your radar and must be investigated and monitored. Here we come up against competing priorities and an assessment of risk. I can imagine a scenario whereby it was determined that Couture-Rouleau had been ‘neutralised’ when his passport was taken away and it was thought that he would settle down (as happens in many cases when aspiring terrorists realise authorities are on to them: trust me, I have seen this happen).

As it turns out the RCMP was wrong and WO Patrice Vincent is dead (so is Couture-Rouleau: he rolled his car fleeing the scene of the crime and was shot dead when he ran at police with a knife). He may have seen the actions of the government as interference in fulfilling his ‘destiny’.

It is unclear what lessons were learned by this incident. Could a better job at investigating and determining risk have been done? Probably as nothing is ever perfect. I hesitate at pointing fingers though as I have a good sense at how complicated these issues are.

And I’d recommend you be as circumspect in laying blame when you do not have all the facts at hand.

RIP WO Vincent.

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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