Terrorism in Canada: The end of complacency and the advent of reality

Being engaged in maritime security journalism, I have heard military and law enforcement professionals complain that Canadians are ‘too complacent’ about terrorist threats. Images of the Nation’s Capital under lockdown and gun shots shattering the halls of Parliament must lead to Canadians accepting that terrorism can happen in Canada.

I thought that a Toronto 18 Canadian Islamic extremist scenario to decapitating the Prime Minister was unfolding when I tuned into the bizarre events being reported from Ottawa on October 22, 2014. Media references to Rideau Center mall being locked-down and under fire made me think of Nairobi’s Westgate mall.

The Ottawa attack occurred, a day after similar attacks on two Canadian soldiers in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec with one killed. Was the Ottawa attack a ‘copy cat’ incidents or part of a larger coordinated strategy? Unexpected terrorist attacks create a knowledge vacuum that key decision makers have to manage efficiently and effectively. Initial indications suggest this is what happened.

Both terrorist attacks, as tragic as they are, were very Canadian. It is likely that Canadian gun laws saved the day in Ottawa. The Winchester rifle obtained by the Ottawa ‘terrorist’ definitely limited the number of fatalities relative to what we routinely witness when an American goes on a rampage with an easily obtained military duplicate automatic gun(s). Two fatalities, with one being the perpetrators in each incident, is testament to Canada’s gun laws and the cool of our police under fire.

We shouldn’t compare these attacks on Canadian society with 9/11. The closest comparison among recent global terrorist attacks is the Woolwich attack in April 2013 by a foreign Islamic extremist killing an off-duty British soldier. Our terrorists were Canadian born citizens of Canada.

In my January 2014 Broadsides posting entitled: Is there a relationship between Canada’s national security and healthy communities? I make the observation:

The B.C. Legislature bombing attempt suggests that if you have a criminal record and clandestinely convert to Islam, you will raise a ‘red flag’ in the Canadian intelligence community. However, when Lebanese, Greek and Korean Canadian high school friends from London Ontario became radicalized and traveled abroad in search of Jihad, the system was not sensitive enough to ‘flag’ such activities.

At the time of writing this text I thought it was exceptional to have a Canadian Born Canadian (CBC), with a record, clandestinely converted to Islam. Evidently, based on the Quebec parking lot murder and the monumental tragedy in Ottawa, there appear to be a cohort of CBCs, with less fortunate backgrounds, who claim to convert to Islam and become ‘radicalized’; whatever that means.

In these Canadian instances such conversions appear to be motivated more to exercise personal grudges than any Islamic equivalent of an epiphany. These misguided individuals have nothing to do with the hundreds of thousands of people who come to Canada from ‘Godforsaken’ parts of the world to embrace its secure lifestyle. Our terrorists are a product of Canadian society. Such behaviour is a community health issue before it becomes a national security concern.

Canada needs to define and enhance the community peace of mind (CPOM) that binds its diverse peoples together as neighbours, friends, acquaintances and strangers. This ‘on the ground’ sensitivity should serve to identify the onset of ‘radicalization’ along with other community maladies like: domestic violence, suicide, drug addiction, alcoholism, etc. It is by increasing our sensitivity at the community level that such incidents can be resolved. Canada needs a bottom-up strategy to address its brand of terrorism as well as a top down solution.

Tim Lynch is a Toronto based freelance journalist who writes about maritime security. His email address is tim@infolynk.ca