What should we worry about?

What threats and concerns should be at the top of Canadians’ lists?

Well, according to interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose the answer is clear.  It is Islamic State.  The terrorist group, in her view, poses “the greatest threat to humanity” (I really need to support this statement with a citation otherwise people will think I am making this up – click here).  That position is certainly consistent with what the Conservatives said during the last election campaign.  A campaign they lost, in part because Canadians did not buy the fear and panic they were selling.

I won’t go over the laundry list of ways you can die (cancer, car accident….drowning in your bathtub), all of which are far more likely than going out as a victim of a terrorist attack for the simple reason that numbers don’t work here.  We seem to prefer to respond on an emotional, and not a scientific, level to death such that the low probability of being in the wrong place at the wrong time when a bomb goes off is trumped by the fear of the possibility, however remote.

There is something about terrorism that sparks an irrational response in us.  I find this very curious – and recent.  Ask yourself this question (if you are over 40): when you were young did terrorism even cross your mind?  Likely not.  I know I gave it no time at all. The fact that it consistently ranks at the top of our fears today says something about our ability to adapt to current events, as well as the change in those events and the way we treat them (governments, media, etc.).

In the grand scheme of things, what are the real, contemporary threats facing Canada (I was going to say “humanity” but I don’t think I am qualified to answer)?  Off the top of my head, I think most Canadians should be concerned about the following:

  • the state of the economy in light of the fall in resource pricing, especially oil, given that Canada is still seen as a primary materials state
  • income inequality and poverty
  • the environment and global warming/climate change
  • the myriad problems faced by our First Nations (poverty, substance abuse, missing and murdered indigenous women…)
  • why a Canada-based team can’t win the Stanley Cup (ok, that one is frivolous, but I bet lots of my fellow citizens agonise over it!)

Notice what is not there?  Terrorism.

As I have written many, many times, the terrorist threat to Canada is real and cannot be ignored.  There are those among us who subscribe to violent ideologies and who may seek to carry out acts of terror against us for a whole host of reasons.   We had 4 significant plots thwarted thanks to the work of CSIS, the RCMP and law enforcement agencies from 2006-2013, a sign that the threat is not made up.  And of course we had two successful attacks two days apart in October 2014 in which two members of the Canadian Armed Forces, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Circillo, were slaughtered by men inspired by IS.

But there is the proof of what I am stating right there.  Two men have been killed in the post 9/11 period in Canada through an act of terrorism (some would add the attack in Moncton in which 4 RCMP officers were killed: I am not convinced that was terrorist in nature).  I intend no disrespect to the two officers, but two deaths in almost a decade and a half just confirms that terrorism, at least here in Canada, remains a very, very rare event.  It is even difficult to see how it could become commonplace, regardless of whether we see more attempted attacks in the future.  As for IS, yes the group can commit terrorist acts, as we have seen, but it is nowhere near an existential threat to Canadians, or to humanity for that matter.

My advice to Canadians is to put the necessary time and resources into the big challenges facing us.  For instance, why don’t we commit to developing affordable, renewable energy within a decade – kinda like our moonshot a la Kennedy?  Now there’s a problem that needs addressing and a great contribution to the future of our planet.

As for terrorism?  It should not be our primary worry.  Put your faith in the agencies mandated to prevent it – they know what they are doing.



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.

Leave a Reply