If you were to ask most people around the world about my country I am pretty sure that few would respond “Canada? Oh it is a hotbed of terrorism!” This is not to say that there have not been any terrorist acts over the years – in fact many forget that the single largest act of terrorism in history prior to 9/11, the 1985 downing of an Air India plane, was made in Canada plot – but they are thankfully few and far between. We may have just witnessed a terrorist attack on Edmonton last night (more to follow) but there were three interesting developments this week in the world of terrorism that have a Canadian nexus.
- a Montreal court sentenced Ismael Habib to nine years in prison for his attempts to join IS. A Gatineau court had found him guilty earlier of threatening his girlfriend.
- a New York court found Muhanad al-Farekh guilty of providing material support to AQ on Friday. Although a US citizen, al-Farekh was a student at the University of Manitoba and disappeared with two Canadians back in 2007.
- a BC Supreme Court acquitted Othman Hamdan of supporting terrorist online in a September 25 decision.
As Meat Loaf once sang “two out of three ain’t bad.” But on a more serious note, terrorism is a real, albeit not an existential, threat to Canada. Several major plots have been foiled thanks to the efforts of CSIS and the RCMP (and their partners) and only two have been successful – two days apart in October 2014 that led to the deaths of two members of the Canadian military. We have also had a few near misses – Aaron Driver in Strathroy (Ontario), Rehab Dughmosh in a Canadian Tire last summer – as well as an alarming number of Canadians who have traveled to join Islamic State and who may return one day to wreak havoc. All in all, however, Canada has dodged this scourge.
Nevertheless, as they say in investment past performance is no guarantee of future return. If the events last night in Edmonton do turn out to be terrorism, and they are definitely pointing in that direction even if the investigation is still in its early stages, we may have been hit by an attack very much in the vein of Barcelona, London, Nice and Berlin. No, this is not the first use of a vehicle in an attack – Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was killed on October 20, 2014 by Martin Couture-Rouleau with a car – but it may be the first mass casualty one (injuries so far thank God) on Canadian soil. We must acknowledge however that the incident on Edmonton streets may not have been a planned attempt to mow down pedestrians: the culprit was, after all, fleeing a police stop. But the effects are similar.
In the end, terrorism remains a very rare scourge in Canada and is likely to remain so. We cannot panic and give in to fear and anger. We must be true to our ‘Canadianness’, a quality that endears us to so many in the world. We must ensure that CSIS, the RCMP and others are properly resourced. We must borrow from the Brits and ‘stay calm and carry on’.
My thoughts are with the injured police officer as well as the pedestrians.