'Rediscovery' of homegrown terrorism
Sentries return to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during a ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa Oct. 24, 2014. Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was shot and killed at the National War Memorial on Oct. 22. (Errol McGihon/QMI Agency)
The biggest Canadian news story of 2014 was the horrifying shootings at Ottawa’s War Memorial and Parliament Hill. This incident, in turn, led to what I believe was the year’s biggest political development in Canada: the “rediscovery” of homegrown terrorism.
In fairness, Canadians knew that terrorism existed in the Great White North. We witnessed aspects of it during the 1970 FLQ crisis and 1985 Air India Flight 182 bombing. More recently, Canadians have left to join the barbaric Islamic State (ISIS).
But when push comes to shove, I don’t believe most Canadians really thought about the growing threat of terrorism on Canadian soil.
It’s hard to understand why they didn’t.
In 1998, then-Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Ward Elcock told our Parliament, “With perhaps the singular exception of the United States, there are more international terrorist groups active [in Canada] than any other country.”
Elcock noted that 50 terrorist groups, with “sleeper cells” in Canada, were being investigated. This included organizations such as al-Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.
CSIS went further in a 2000 report about international terrorism. These sleeper cells had shifted from “support roles, such as fundraising and [weapons] procurement,” into the stage of “planning and preparing terrorist acts.”
It’s all rather frightening, when you think about it.
Two Liberal prime ministers, Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, were obviously aware of this problem. They received CSIS briefings and reports, and perhaps met occasionally with senior officials. Meanwhile, the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act banned some terrorist groups from fundraising activities.
However, it’s very clear Chretien and Martin didn’t do nearly as much as they should have done on this file. If they had, then a 2004 U.S. Library of Congress report wouldn’t have made this scathing assessment, “Canada has played a significant role as a base for both transnational criminal activity and terrorist activity.”
Canadian reactions weren’t much better. Most of us chose to hide our heads in the sand, or refused to consider the possibility that homegrown terrorism was alive and kicking.
Then came the two terrible incidents Canada experienced within 48 hours.
First, Martin Couture-Rouleau ran into two soldiers with his car in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, on Oct. 20. Second, Michael Joseph Zehaf-Bibeau shot Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in cold blood at the War Memorial on Oct. 22, and fired numerous gunshots against security personnel on Parliament Hill.
In short order, we found out these two individuals had either direct or indirect links to terrorism and radical Islam.
Couture-Rouleau was reportedly going to visit Turkey this summer, before the RCMP arrested him at the airport and seized his passport. The recent Muslim convert was suspected of having links to international terrorism. He was placed on a high-security list of roughly 93 individuals with similar radical tendencies.
Zehaf-Bibeau wasn’t on this list, but he was on our national security radar. He wanted to travel to Syria (the home base of ISIS), and reportedly had connections with radical groups.
Canadian eyes opened in a hurry. They rediscovered that homegrown terrorism exists, and is getting worse.
To be clear, I’m not saying terrorists are hiding under our beds - or that we should distrust all Muslims living in Canada. Those are either gross overreactions, or just plain nuts.
At the same time, all Canadians need to be vigilant against terrorism, both international and domestic. If we learn this important lesson from 2014, then things might just improve in 2015.
Michael Taube is a Washington Times columnist and a former speechwriter for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.