Gurski: Linking immigration and terrorism is wrong, in Canada and elsewhere

Good column by Gurski:

I never knew my maternal grandfather. He emigrated to Canada in the early part of the 20th century from western Ukraine (or eastern Poland, the details on that are fuzzy) and settled in Montreal where he worked at the CPR’s Angus workshops, along with a great many other immigrants, I imagine. He married and had four children, including my mother, and toughed it out during the Great Depression. He died in the mid-1940s.

I seldom think of him but his memory came back to me last week when I read of a new documentary, That Never Happened, by Saskatoon native Ryan Boyko, which premiered at Ottawa’s Bytowne Cinema among other venues. The film deals with the internment of thousands of Ukrainian immigrants in camps in remote areas of Canada from 1914-1920. These men were seen as citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with which we were at war, and hence they were viewed as enemies of the state. My grandfather is believed to have been one of those internees at the Spirit Lake detention site in northern Quebec (I have a copy of my grandfather’s passport which says he was tied to the Austro-Hungarian Empire).

The round-up of thousands of Ukrainian immigrants, and the monitoring of tens of thousands more, was the product of fear: fear of the other. In fairness, I suppose, Canada was at war and those were different times, but fear is still largely irrational and often unjustified. Nor has it gone away – as there are still those who paint immigrants as threats today.

To see this, we do not have to cast our eyes even as far as the shameful depiction by U.S. President Donald Trump of the thousands of desperate migrants making their way through Central America to the southern states as “terrorists and criminals.” An example closer to home is La Meute (the “Wolfpack”), a racist Francophone anti-immigrant group, doing the same thing in Quebec regarding the irregular migrants seeking to leave an increasingly unstable U.S. and showing up at Canada’s border .

Whatever you think of people on the move – and there are valid concerns over how the government is dealing with, and should deal with, these migrants – what is quite clear is that they present a very low to non-existent national security threat. Yes, it is always possible that there are unsavoury characters in the mix who may engage in criminal activities in Canada, but shrill fear-mongering about a wave of terrorists seeking to sow mayhem in our cities is unsubstantiated.

U.S. intelligence agencies, for instance, have stated publicly that Trump’s conviction that ISIL is using the cover of refugee flows to infiltrate the U.S. is false. In other words, the president’s own intelligence services have taken the rare step to openly tell Americans that there is no “there” there, despite Trump’s demagoguery.

I am neither naïve nor ignorant of the real terrorist threat, having spent 15 years with CSIS as a strategic terrorism analyst and having written four books on the topic. It is always possible that malefactors use the immigration system to enter Canada – and we have had examples in the recent past. At the same time, however, there is simply no evidence that this represents a significant risk for our country. Our intelligence and other government organizations are on top of this, and they will advise the proper authorities when they come across solid information about a real risk so that action can be taken.

The rest of us – yes, that includes members of La Meute and other anti-immigrant and Islamophobic groups – need to start trusting in those agencies and stop irrationally hitting the panic button on immigration. Canada needs more people for its economic and social development and immigration is one way to get those people. Immigration is a strength, not a weakness.

Besides, no one should have to endure what my grandfather did. No one.

Source: Gurski: Linking immigration and terrorism is wrong, in Canada and elsewhere

What’s with Islamophobia in Quebec?

Good commentary by Phil Gurski, noting the impact that this kind of discourse has on security agency efforts to engage with Muslim Canadians:

“Islam should be banned like we ban pit bulls.” You read that right. This was a Twitter post by an erstwhile candidate for the Parti Québeécois in the upcoming Quebec election. Suffice it to say he is no longer on the PQ slate. But let me repeat what he wrote: “Islam should be banned like we ban pit bulls.” Wow. It is hard to say anything about that beyond disgust that someone would (a) actually think this and (b) actually Tweet it. Talk about a career killer.

Or not.

There appears to be a disturbing amount of Islamophobia in the province of Quebec. This irrational fear, despite the actual presence of Islamist extremists, a topic I will return to below, is manifest in a variety of ways, ranging from ridiculous calls to ban stoning to the killing of Muslims at worship. Somewhere in the middle, lies a gaggle of self-styled patriot groups such as La Meute who claim to be standing on guard against the dangers posed by migrants, many of whom are Muslim.

What is driving this hatred for Islam? That indeed is a very good question. Is it the changing nature of Quebec society from centuries of white francophone Catholicism to a much more multicultural polity? Is it tied to the vestiges of separatism, a desire that appears, at least as far as all the major political parties are concerned, to be all but dead? These attitudes are not limited to Quebec but when Québécois francophones hold and pronounce them they do seem to get more attention in Canadian media. This is perhaps a shortcoming of how we recognize and report what is ‘newsworthy’ in this country.

We could dismiss all of this as hateful discrimination and move on, much the same as everyone seems to have a boorish relative who says stupid things, but gets away with them because no one wants to cause a family rift by challenging them. This, of course, is not an optimal response: hatred directed at any one group should always be called out for what it is in view of what is sometimes called the ‘broken window theory’: i.e. the notion that if you ignore early signs of disorder they will only get worse. I am not drawing a direct line between Islamophobic rhetoric and the shooting at the Québec City mosque in January 2017 but it is nonetheless important to reject racism in all its forms.

Those who hold these views will often point to terrorism as justification for their fears and demands for a cap on immigration. Here they both are sadly mistaken and yet have a point. Even a cursory glance at terrorism in Canada over the past few decades demonstrates quite clearly that not only is violent extremism thankfully a rarity in our country but the single largest successful attack was actually perpetrated against Muslims, not by them—Alexandre Bissonnette’s rampage in 2017. At the same time, there was an attack in Quebec by a Muslim in 2014, this one by Martin Couture-Rouleau, a convert to Islam albeit originally a Québécois de souche. There have also been other Quebec Muslims who have left to join terrorist groups abroad and some may return one day to carry out violence back home. So yes, the fear is real even if it is minimally supported by data.

The problem remains that even if there are violently radicalized Quebec Muslims they are but a handful and outweighed by tens of thousands of others. It is simply wrong to paint all with the same brush just because a few engage in violence. Furthermore, by engaging in discriminatory practices against an entire community for the sins of a tiny part, it forces that majority to circle the wagons out of a sense of self protection. This has serious implications for any collaboration and cooperation between Quebec Muslims and those agencies tasked with investigating real threats, such as CSIS and the RCMP.

Racism is racism and has no part in Canada. Let’s not bury our heads in the sand over this.

Source: What’s with Islamophobia in Quebec?

Would-be Canadian terrorists are often made in Canada: Gurski

Good reminder by Phil Gurski:
What is a citizen? Well, it depends. The concept appears to date back to city states in ancient Greece, but in the modern era each state decides what the rules are. For the average person citizenship is determined by the particular country in which they were born. There are, however, exceptions. Some nations recognize anyone born on their soil—so-called jus soli—so that if a woman gives birth while in transit on a flight that child can receive that country’s citizenship. Others do not.
During the recent Conservative convention in Halifax a resolution was passed calling for the government to stop granting citizenship to anyone born on Canadian soil, and instead to require at least one parent to be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. The motion was spurred by a belief that pregnant non-Canadian women were flying to Canada for the sole purpose of giving birth, although there are no indications that this is a significant problem in our country. The Conservative position has already led to reactions that it is not necessary.
Two cases in our country have arisen that lead to interesting dilemmas. In the first, two children born in Canada to Russians here illegally as spies were once seen as citizens. The Supreme Court is currently weighing in on a lower court decision that removed their citizenship. I imagine that most Canadians would not want to see the offspring of Russian spies receive the privileges our country has to offer, even if the fact they were born here was not their ‘fault’.
So what about terrorists? The Harper government tried to enact legislation that would strip those convicted of terrorist offences in Canada of their citizenship. The case of Zakaria Amara, one of the leaders of the 2005-6 Toronto 18 terrorist cell, was the test case. His citizenship was revoked but re-granted after the Liberals took power.
Like the case of the children of the Russian “illegals” I would wager that most Canadians would have little to no problem with taking away the benefit of being one of us from someone who sought to blow us up. If an immigrant to whom we granted citizenship goes and becomes a terrorist and plans to kill his fellow Canadians, does he deserve to be one of us? Great question.
There are of course limitations on when a state can take citizenship away. No state can—or rather, no state should—render a person stateless. Hence, an individual with status in only one country can not have that status taken away: that act can only be applied to those who can fall back on a secondary citizenship. Mr. Amara had dual Jordanian-Canadian citizenship and had temporarily lost the latter.
As I argued in Western Foreign Fighters, however, the decision to take away citizenship does not solve one significant issue: those who come to our land as children and become terrorists (note that I wrote “become” and not “were born as”) do so within our society. In other words, the process of radicalization occurs here, not elsewhere. Even if we were to remove such people who pose a threat to us through their terrorist plots by stripping them of their Canadian citizenship and deporting them, this does little to disrupt the incidence of radicalization here (aside of course from removing one radicalizing influence who can affect others).
This is an important detail. Contrary to public wisdom, radicalization to violence is a Canadian problem: it does not appear on our shores via the immigration system. We thus have to learn to deal with it and the government has started a new centre to help coordinate those efforts.
I fully understand the anger that Canadians feel towards those of us who choose to embrace terrorism (note that I wrote “choose” and not “were duped into”): I share that anger. Perhaps steps to yank citizenship will act as a deterrent for others: perhaps not (I lean towards the latter). Which ever way the government goes it does not eliminate the need to develop a better understanding of why Canadians radicalize to violence, and either travel abroad to join terrorist groups or plan acts here. One thing we cannot do is deport our way out of this problem.

No, CSIS does not ‘target’ Muslims with no accountability (Gurski) and the piece that prompted it (Gardee)

Phil Gurski on Ihsaan Gardee’s earlier column (reprinted below):

There are times when you read something that makes your blood boil and demands a response. One such time occurred to me last week within the pages of The Hill Times in an op-ed by Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). Entitled “Government must rebuild trust with Canadian Muslims on national security“, this op-ed piece is full of language like “over-reaching and draconian,” “smearing Muslims,” “Islamophobia,” “systemic bias and discrimination,” and “little or no accountability,” all directed at CSIS and other agencies involved in national security.

Gardee paints a picture of CSIS that seems to have it in for Canada’s Muslims and which has undermined attempts by those communities to “establish robust partnerships.” He appears convinced that CSIS is an organization run rogue that has “protracted problems” which leads to the “stigmatization” of those among us who are Muslim.

As a former analyst at CSIS who not only worked on Islamist extremism for 15 years, but who has written four books on the topic—and met with Muslims all across the country to discuss the issues of radicalization and terrorism—I think I am in a better position than him to draw a better picture. And no, for the record, I am not a ‘shill’ for CSIS and more than happy to point to the bad as well as the good within the agency.

So to the first accusation levelled by Gardee: does Islamophobia exist within CSIS? Absolutely—I saw it first-hand and challenged it when I saw it, although it is not as pervasive as he thinks it is. And, yes, the lawsuit containing allegations about Islamophobia among other shortcomings that was settled by five former employees was based on facts, as I outlined quite clearly in a previous Hill Times column. Aside from that, however, everything else Gardee alleges as endemic within CSIS—I cannot speak for another agency such as CBSA as I never worked there and would never purport to know what goes on within its walls—is false. As CSIS won’t publicly address these fabrications, I will, if for no other reason than I toiled tirelessly for a decade and a half to do my small part in keeping Canadians safe from terrorism and don’t want my time construed as wasted in a racist environment.

But if you look at the terrorist/violent extremist environment in Canada since 9/11, which seems to be the timeframe Gardee sees when everything went to hell for Muslim Canadians, the vast majority of attacks have been perpetrated by Islamist extremists. And that does not even take into account the Islamic State ‘foreign fighter’ phenomenon that led to the deaths of countless thousands in Iraq and Syria. Does this perhaps explain why CSIS and its partners have focused on the Muslim community in that time, given that these perpetrators come from that community?

What Gardee appears to fail to understand is that CSIS is an intelligence agency that is driven by intelligence. Intelligence tells it where to put its resources; that and government requirements. If the threat is emanating primarily from a small number of Canadians who happen to be Muslim then that is exactly where you would want our protectors to look, not elsewhere.

I am not saying that CSIS or its employees are perfect. No, they are not as they are human. In addition, there is always room for improvement, and that includes its relations with communities across Canada, Muslims among them. Since 9/11, however, CSIS has done its part with its partners to prevent deaths. I would think that Gardee would at least acknowledge that much.

I thus reject Gardee’s accusations. He owes CSIS an apology for his ill-considered words. Phil Gurski is a former strategic analyst with CSIS, an author and the Director of Intelligence and Security at the SecDev Group.

via No, CSIS does not ‘target’ Muslims with no accountability – The Hill Times

Gardee’s op-ed made in the context of C-59:

Once bitten, twice shy. That’s the sense within Canadian Muslim communities when it comes to the Liberal government’s proposed overhaul of national security law under Bill C-59.

The legislation was back before the House last week after examination by the Public Safety and National Security Committee.

Let’s not forget where this first started. Under the previous government, Canadian anti-terrorism laws quickly morphed into overreaching and draconian policies. This was coupled with Muslim communities facing jarring public scrutiny and increasing Islamophobia.

Back then, despite efforts from Canadian Muslims to establish robust partnerships on national security, the government’s response was to smear them as a threat to Canada. The result: trust between Canadian Muslims and the government agencies tasked with protecting us all evaporated after years of work.

The days when the loyalty of Canadian Muslims was being questioned by government officials seem behind us—for now. But that is no standard by which to measure meaningful change.

That very public show of Islamophobic discourse by government overshadowed something even more alarming—the permeating of systemic bias and discrimination against Muslims by and in our security agencies.

In the past several months alone, we have seen sweeping allegations by CSIS employees about racism and Islamophobia within the service and new data that suggests the CBSA disproportionately targets non-whites, particularly those from the Middle East.

These accounts, along with the direct reports regularly received by our organization, only amplify concerns about what Canadian Muslims have been experiencing for years.

To be fair, Bill C-59 does make important, long-overdue improvements to previous laws, including better and more focused review powers and mechanisms as well as some stricter directives to prevent complicity with torture by foreign powers.

Last December, our organization told the House Public Safety Committeethat redress and review were only a partial solution to the problems plaguing Canada’s national security system. Real reform of security work is necessary to address systemic bias and discrimination.

As outlined by experts and civil society, there are several concerning elements in Bill C-59; however, two key issues have recently come to the fore.

First, the government has not substantially reined back the contentious disruption powers given to CSIS—an agency that we know through public inquiries has targeted Muslims with little to no accountability for their actions. There must be a concerted effort by government to confront the systemic bias in the way CSIS approaches and resources its intelligence work. Until real change occurs, these powers which remain unproven in their effectiveness are only an invitation to more abuse and scandal.

Second, the lack of due process in the Passenger Protect Program—Canada’s No Fly List—continues. This has been one of the most troubling instruments of state power for over a decade. There are no reported cases of Canadians successfully getting off the list through the Passenger Protect Inquiries Office which was created in 2016. Families impacted by the list say the inquiries office has been of little to no use. Although recently funding has been earmarked for a new redress system to remove false flagging, how and why Canadians find themselves on this draconian list in the first place remains unanswered.

As we look ahead, the aegis of this legislation does not engender the kind of trust from communities that is needed.

Incidentally, Public Safety Canada’s recently launched Canada Centre for Community Engagement and the Prevention of Violence is pledging a strategy that “reflects the realities faced by Canada’s diverse communities.” Canadian Muslims are closely watching whether this initiative is yet another exercise in falsely framing national security as the “Muslim problem” or whether policymaking will finally take into account the growing threat of far-right extremism in Canada.

In other words, rebuilding trust with our communities cannot be achieved through roundtables and focus groups.

It has been more than a decade since the Arar Inquiry report first outlined some of the protracted problems within our country’s security apparatus. Through the haze of political haste, 12 years later Canadian Muslims are still seeking the partnership with government that ends their national security stigmatization.

Government must rebuild trust with Canadian Muslims on national security

Why Canada’s Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence is in the wrong department 

Phil is a friend of mine and I have great respect for the work he did while in government and the analysis and commentary he is doing outside.

His logic is sound in having community engagement and deradicalization outside of Public Safety, to distinguish the security function and  community support/resilience-building. As Phil and I have discussed, in theory, Canadian Heritage would be a good home for all the reasons he lists.

But with respect for the people who work in Canadian Heritage, the department, as constituted, is not equipped to provide strong leadership in this area given its focus on its core mandate.

The area that could have possibly taken this on – multiculturalism – has been largely decimated following the 2008 transfer to then CIC (IRCC) and return back to Canadian Heritage in 2015:

First of all, kudos to the Trudeau government for its commitment to the Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence (CCCEPE—that name is way too long, however). The $35-million over five years is an excellent start and, although details are wanting, the government sees the new office  as a leadership post for Canada’s efforts.

This move represents a significant shift in Canada’s prevention of violent extremism approach from the purely hardline emphasis of the Harper government to a more inclusive and more comprehensive one under the new regime. As I have said before, we will always need the hardline tool, but we need to do more in early intervention and counter-radicalization.

One question remains: where should this new office reside? When I was still with the federal government it was housed where it is now, within Public Safety Canada. In some ways, it should stay there if for no other reason than  that department has experienced and capable staff who were part of the amazing success of the shortened efforts under Harper.

But in other and more important ways it should be moved to another department. Let me try to explain why.

Aside from getting a brand new start and being able to put the unfortunate mistakes of the previous government behind us, the biggest drawback to leaving Canada’s Prevention of Violence strategy with Public Safety lies with the very nature of that ministry. Public Safety Canada is the umbrella department for CSIS, the RCMP, Correctional Services Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency. All these are staffed by dedicated and professional people but they have one underlying commonality: they are all enforcement/punitive agencies. The Prevention of Violence strategy needs to be seen as an opportunity to occur before people engage in activities that are the remit of CSIS and the RCMP in order to work. We have seen in other places like the U.K. with its PREVENT program (which is housed within that country’s version of Public Safety) that communities associate PVE with intelligence gathering and enforcement, whether or not that is what is happening.  Having a ministry responsible for the national spy and law enforcement agencies run PVE creates a stigma that can hamper even the best efforts.  If communities do not feel comfortable and have issues of trust with certain partners, they will not want to participate.

What if the government were to put the new office under the Heritage portfolio? PVE is all about providing communities with the tools to foster Canadian citizenship and reject the empty and violent promises of groups like Islamic State. It is about being or becoming Canadian. Another aspect is the debate over narratives. I have long argued that we need to move away from “counter narratives” to “alternative narratives.” Alternative narratives are an important part of PVE—what better place to locate them than within Heritage, the department that helps foster the Canadian narrative? Our narrative is so superior to that of the Islamic State that if this were a boxing match the referee would have called the fight years ago.

Of course, those with lots of experience in PVE, especially the RCMP which has a longstanding and robust outreach program, would be asked to lend its assistance and best practices. Other partners could also contribute. Canada is—or rather was—a world leader in PVE and many countries look to us for models on what to do. We don’t need to reinvent it, we just need to tweak it to make it better.

At the end of the day it may not matter where the government decides to put PVE. Only time will tell. I am glad to see that those in the centre already recognize some important aspects on how to implement their strategy (tailor the approach to match local conditions, acknowledge that the government does not have the credibility to do PVE, etc.).  Evaluation and measurement of what works and what doesn’t will be critical.  Lots of people put their hands out when government funding is provided and the centre has to ensure that the right people are getting that money. The important thing is that it cultivate good relations with the communities it hopes to work with for the best answers to violent radicalization and extremism are to be found there, not in a government policy brief.

Source: Why Canada’s Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence is in the wrong department – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

Does Canada take the threat of far-right extremism seriously?

Worth noting the contrasting assessments:

Yet the outburst of deadly racist violence in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend is not without parallels in Canada. Recent estimates suggest there are dozens of active white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups across the country.

They advocate everything from biological racism to anti-Semitism to radical libertarianism. Members of groups such as the Heritage Front, Freemen of the Land and Blood and Honour have been charged with dozens of crimes, including murder, attempted murder and assault.

Roughly 30 homicides in Canada since 1980 have been linked to individuals espousing some form of extreme right-wing ideology.​ 

But the pattern of right-wing extremist violence in Canada is too inconsistent to merit being prioritized over the threat posed by Islamic extremists, according to two former members of the security establishment.

“I do think right-wing extremism is a national security problem, but we’re not devoting the resources to it because we don’t need to,” said Phil Gurski, a former CSIS analyst who now runs a security consulting business.

“I have seen nothing to suggest that they pose an equally dangerous threat as that posed by Islamist extremism, which in and of itself is still a fairly minor threat in Canada.”

The limited national security resources devoted to right-wing extremism is also based on a belief that such groups are fractious, ideologically incoherent and engage mainly in lower-level crime such as robbery or graffiti, said Stephanie Carvin, a former national security adviser for the Canadian government.

“The violence that results [from right-wing extremist groups] tends to be dealt with more at the police level than the national security level,” said Carvin, who teaches courses about security and terrorism at Carleton University in Ottawa.

“If you just look at the sheer number of cases of individuals who are foreign [jihadist] fighters, or potential foreign fighters or returnees, it still outweighs the potential actors on the far right.”

A dangerous oversimplification?

As recently as January, just days before the deadly shooting at a Quebec City mosque, a threat assessment based on input from Canada’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies determined there was “no indication that right-wing extremists pose a threat to migrants.”

CSIS’s own website says the threat posed by the extreme right has “not been a significant a problem in Canada in recent years. Those who hold such extremist views have tended to be isolated and ineffective figures.”

But the Quebec City shooting, which police believe was carried out by an individual holding anti-immigrant views, raised questions about the accuracy of the security establishment’s estimation of right-wing extremism.

James Ellis, a Vancouver-based terrorism scholar affiliated with the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society (TSAS), said it’s a dangerous oversimplification to portray the majority of far-right groups in Canada as too disorganized to pose a serious threat to national security.

“You’re essentially taking your eye off the ball,” said Ellis, who until recently maintained the Canadian Incident Database, which tracks acts of terrorism between 1960 and 2015.

“The data suggests that right-wing extremism is certainly on par if not exceeding the threat from Islamic terrorism cropping up within Canada itself.”

Source: Does Canada take the threat of far-right extremism seriously? – Montreal – CBC News

Should we ‘ban’ Salafism? – Gurski

Good piece by Phil Gurski:

Truth be told, I am no fan of most Salafis (full disclosure: I am not Muslim so my views count for little). I happen to find them arrogant, intolerant and distrustful of Muslims who are not like them (this means most Muslims—look at the figure presented above: of an estimated 4.3 million Muslims in Germany, 10,000— i.e. less than one per cent—are Salafi). In the same way I have little time for fundamentalists of any religion, including my own. But, I don’t tell them how to pray and how to worship—that is not my job. Is the German government now the arbiter of Islam in Germany? Does it really want that job?

This is fraught with problems. Is anyone associated with the German government qualified to determine who is a Salafist and who isn’t? What about divisions within Salafism? Most reputable scholars recognize at least three divisions with only the third—the Salafi jihadis—as a group that must be opposed because they believe in the use of violence to get their way. If Germany cracks down on “Salafists,” whether or not they espouse violence, should it not also ban other fundamentalist groups (Jews, Christians, Hindus…)? If not, why not?

At the end of the day the people best placed to deal with Salafism, if we agree that it is a “problem,” are not those in government, but the communities where it has taken hold. They are the ones most affected by it and they are the ones criticized by those with more intolerant views. They have a vested interest in challenging this issue, not the state. If certain preachers advocate violence, then ban them.

Furthermore, and this is really important, just as there is not a direct correlation/causation between Islam and terrorism, nor is there one on every occasion between Salafi Islam and terrorism. Saying there is is disingenuous. Let’s not make the serious problem of terrorism bigger than it already is. The “escalator” model of terrorism (i.e. that there are concrete steps always present along the pathway to violent extremism) is a poor one and has never been shown to apply universally. This lack of certainty describes the relationship between Salafism and terrorism.

Canada’s 15th prime minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, famously said that the “state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.” Nor does it have a place in the mosques, pews, synagogues, temples or gurdwaras. If any of these places serve as hub or venue for conspiracy to commit a terrorist act, then that is a different story and the State does have both a right and a duty to get involved. Otherwise, it is wiser to stay out of that domain.

Source: Should we ‘ban’ Salafism? – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

Toronto 18 may have been shock for Canada, but it was not harbinger of a path to ruin: Gurski

Phil Gurski’s reflections on what we learned from the Toronto 18:

The event was a seminal one for me as a CSIS analyst and I’d like to reflect on what this meant then as well as what is means now. Much has happened in the intervening decade and much of that has been good in Canada. Firstly, the Toronto 18 investigation proved—or rather should have proven—to skeptical Canadians that terrorism was real and not just something that happened ‘”over there.” Truth be told, there were significant doubts about the real nature of the threat in June 2006 and whether this cell was that dangerous: many believed that CSIS and the RCMP had exaggerated the plot. I am happy to say that 10 years later most Canadians accept the fact that we have terrorists in our midst. This turnaround in public opinion may have had a lot to do with the attack on the National War Memorial and Parliament on Oct. 22, 2014, but in any event it is a step forward in our collective understanding and acceptance of the issue.

Secondly, the RCMP advised Muslim leaders of the impending takedown just before it took place to allow them to prepare their communities for the news. This was an outstanding decision at the time and the relationship between Canadian government officials and these communities has only gotten better since then (albeit with an unfortunate downturn at the end of the Harper years). All this shows that we do things differently in Canada and I know that many countries have sought our input as they seek to learn from our model. Are we perfect? No, but we are in a much better position than most Western countries on this issue.

Thirdly, the case demonstrated clearly that a group of Canadian Muslims can radicalize to violence entirely at home with no significant foreign input. This was not an al-Qaeda-led or—directed plot (Islamic State did not exist back then) but rather a terrorist act planned based on what is known as the al-Qaeda (or single) narrative—the notion that the West was at war with Islam and that “true” Muslims (self-defined) had to fight to defend the faith. The Toronto 18 sought to punish Canada and Canadians for their decision to send soldiers to Afghanistan back in 2001. In an era where we obsess about IS and their involvement in organizing attacks abroad, it is important to remember that most plots in the West are homegrown.

Fourthly, the case showed that CSIS and the RCMP could work hand in glove to successfully stop a terrorist act from occurring. The investigation started with CSIS and was handed over to the Mounties when it was clear a criminal act was being planned. CSIS sources became RCMP agents (not always an easy thing to do) more or less seamlessly and a serious terrorist attack was averted. There is little doubt that the CSIS-RCMP relationship has had its ups and downs but the two do work together well and Canadians are safer as a result.

Lastly, despite more foiled plots and two successful ones in the interim, Canada remains in a good position when it comes to homegrown terrorism. We are not in the same league as France or Belgium or the U.K., or even the U.S. Our government has done a much better job at understanding the threat and putting measures into place, both soft and hard, to deal with it. We had the five-year $10-million Kanishka research project which, although many thought it under-delivered (I am among that group), set the stage for a more robust and more mature academic environment to look at terrorism where none existed before. Public Safety Canada’s Citizen Engagement branch developed a community outreach program that was the envy of all our allies and the creation of the new Office of the Coordinator for Counter Radicalization and Community Outreach will hopefully enhance this effort. There is more work to be done but these are all enviable achievements.

The Toronto 18 may have been a shock to the system for Canada, but it was not the harbinger of a path to ruin. We are still a relatively safe country and while we must remain vigilant and ensure that our security and law enforcement agencies enjoy the necessary resourcing and public trust, we will likely remain so.

Source: Toronto 18 may have been shock for Canada, but it was not harbinger of a path to ruin |

Federal study disputes claim diaspora communities breed extremists

The latest study showing that diaspora communities largely play an integrating role, similar to the Mosaic Institute study on imported conflicts (see Unpacking conflict: “We don’t import conflict. But we do import trauma.”):

Canada’s immigrant communities are not breeding grounds for terrorists, as some would argue, but should be enlisted to reduce any violent radicalization in their midst, says a newly released report.

The research, ordered by the Harper government in 2014, appears to repudiate Conservative measures that alienated Muslim communities in the months before last year’s election.

The authors examined four diaspora communities in Canada — Afghan, Somali, Syrian and Tamil — and found them to be willing allies for rooting out extremism among their often young and isolated members.

“More resilient diaspora communities represent the best line of defence against violent extremism,” says the March 30 report, obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

“Diasporas are not a threat, as some of the mainstream discourse on counterterrorism has often implied, but rather Canada’s most valued asset in the fight against terrorism.”

The authors found a mutual distrust between these communities and security agencies, driven partly by news media and academics who have “framed diaspora communities as partly complicit in terrorist activity, a source of threat for host countries like Canada.”

“It has fostered suspicion and even discrimination against certain diaspora groups.”

The research says security agencies such as the RCMP and CSIS need to build trust, especially among Muslim groups in Canada who can often alert police to potential terror activity.

“Dispelling Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination should be a centrepiece of any community engagement strategy surrounding anti-radicalization, as it has fuelled distrust of the state and wider Canadian society in Muslim diaspora communities.”

Helps restore balance

The $180,000 study for Public Safety Canada was carried out over a year by the Kitchener, Ont.-based Security Governance Group, a private consultant firm.

Former Canadian Security Intelligence Service analyst Phil Gurski, a specialist in homegrown radicalization, applauded the findings, saying they can help restore the balance between “hard security” — surveillance, arrests and charges — and “soft security,” or building trust within ethnic communities.

“We had the balance fairly good a couple of years ago, and then some unfortunate things happened towards the end of the Harper government that kind of maligned the trust we had built with communities and put us back a few steps,” Gurski said in an interview.

Among those setbacks was the government’s removal of Hussein Hamdani in April 2015 from the Cross Cultural Roundtable on National Security, after a Quebec blogger alleged Hamdani harboured terrorist sympathies.

The removal resulting from “baseless allegations” was “the biggest blow to the government’s relationship with the Muslim community,” said Gurski, who was Hamdani’s colleague and friend. “It had a chilling effect.”

The incident was followed by last summer’s niqab controversy, in which the Harper government pressed to have Muslim women remove their face covering at citizenship ceremonies, and the Oct. 2 announcement by Conservatives Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander of a “barbaric cultural practices tip line,” allowing citizens to call RCMP anonymously with allegations about their neighbours.

Not too late

Gurski, who was a CSIS officer from 2001 to 2013 and then with Public Safety until retirement last year, said it’s not too late to rebuild trust.

“The communities are willing to play ball again, despite the disappointments they had toward the end of the Harper government,” he said.

Sara Thompson, who teaches criminology at Toronto’s Ryerson University, said the report’s findings parallel her own work with the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society.

“Our findings are remarkably consistent: on the whole the communities under examination should not be viewed as ‘suspect’ but rather as important allies in efforts to prevent radicalization,” she said.

“Community-based tripwires are often activated via a concept known as ‘leakage’ — the tendency among radicalized individuals to broadcast their views and intentions to commit violent acts in advance, typically to friends, family, acquaintances and/or community members.”

Source: Federal study disputes claim diaspora communities breed extremists – Politics – CBC News

Sikh nationalist movement attempts to shed violent past


Advocates for an independent Sikh homeland say they’re looking to the future and pushing for a referendum in India within four years, but the Khalistan movement has been hit by a familiar controversy – an alleged link to extremist violence.

Hardeep Nijjar, a B.C. man who has collected signatures to have anti-Sikh violence in India in the 1980s recognized as genocide, was accused in an Indian newspaper report this week of running a “terror camp” east of Vancouver. Mr. Nijjar was also alleged to be the operational head of a group known as the Khalistan Terror Force and said to be linked to a 2007 attack on a cinema that killed six people. He denied wrongdoing and sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in which he said he has never supported violence.

Sikhs for Justice, a non-profit organization with headquarters in Toronto and New York for which Mr. Nijjar has volunteered, rushed to his defence and accused the Indian government of trying to discredit the push for Sikh self-determination.

The incident highlighted the trouble the Khalistan movement has had shedding its violent reputation, particularly in Canada.

Khalistan proponents were linked to extremist violence in the 1980s, most notably the Air India bombings, which killed 329 people on an airliner and two baggage handlers in Tokyo in 1985. During the subsequent trial, the Crown alleged the bombings were carried out in response to the Indian government’s raid on the Golden Temple, Sikhism’s holiest shrine, a year earlier.

Since the report involving Mr. Nijjar surfaced, the RCMP has said little about his case specifically, or about the Khalistan movement generally. But a former analyst at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said the movement appears to have quieted down in recent years and Canadian law-enforcement agencies have shifted resources elsewhere, such as Islamist extremism.

When asked if the Khalistan movement in Canada will ever be able to move beyond its violent past, Jatinder Grewal, the director of international policy for Sikhs for Justice, said he believes so.

“This idea that India can frame this dialogue solely in the aspects of violence and terrorism is false,” Mr. Grewal, who lives in Toronto, said in an interview.

“The fact is this is a peaceful movement. We just want to hold a referendum.”

Mr. Grewal said Sikhs for Justice, which was founded in 2007, is aiming for a referendum to be held in 2020. He said his organization would like the vote to be open to residents in the northern state of Punjab – which has a Sikh majority and would become an independent state. Mr. Grewal said those who have origins in the state but have since moved elsewhere should also be able to vote.

…Phil Gurski, who worked as a strategic analyst in Canadian intelligence for more than 30 years, including 15 years with CSIS, said it’s unclear how big of a security threat the movement is at this point.

Mr. Gurski, who left CSIS in 2013 and is now the president of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting, said there are undoubtedly fewer law-enforcement resources dedicated to Sikh extremism today than in the past.

“You put your resources where the greatest threat lies and as of today that threat lies with Islamist extremism,” he said in an interview. “It’s not rocket science that when you’re forced to deploy your resources in one direction, you’ve got to take them from somewhere else.”

Shinder Purewal, a political-science professor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, said in an interview earlier this week that while the Khalistan movement in Canada has been linked to violence in the past, there have not been such incidents of late.

Source: Sikh nationalist movement attempts to shed violent past – The Globe and Mail