By Sam Wollenberg, M.A. Candidate, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto.
Canada is known globally for many things, a strong commitment to multiculturalism and a robust welfare state being just two of these accolades. A rapidly increasing growth in the former achievement and a declining ability in the latter to meet these new demands, however, have created new and pressing issues in regards to national policy. One of the most publicized and discussed issues that has arisen out of the past decade revolves around the notion of the “homegrown terrorist,” referring to individuals who have chosen violent means, or the financial support thereof, to achieve their varying ideological ends. Canadian policy makers and law enforcement officials have the ability to significantly reverse this growing trend.
In 2008, the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs stated there was significant data to suggest radicalization within Canada was far more deep-seated than previously thought. Also, in April of 2013, following the involvement of two Canadian citizens in a terrorist attack in Algeria, Foreign Affairs minister John Baird admitted that the government is deeply concerned about homegrown terrorism and will be recommitting itself to the issue.
Thus far, Canada’s record with controlling this domestic threat has been relatively successful. Most recently, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and various law enforcement agencies have stopped an alleged attack on a VIA-rail train between Toronto and New York by two non-citizens legally living in Canada; interrupted a plot to place pressure cooker bombs outside of the Victoria legislature building on Canada Day However, the resources required to interrupt such plots at the planning and operations end of the radicalization spectrum are massive. It might be worthwhile devote more resources towards researching and tackling the factors that lead to radicalization in the first place.
The American Psychological Association (APA) has recently begun gathering information and studies regarding radicalization and common precursors to terrorist tendencies. Marginalization, disenfranchisement and alienation, to name a few, are characteristics found in people susceptible to radicalization. These features can also be found in those that are poverty stricken, newly immigrated, or second generation Canadians. In fact, there is some speculation that this last category, second generation Canadians, is the most susceptible to radical ideologies due to the disconnect that new Canadians have from their parents’ experience in their native countries, while simultaneously not yet finding enough familiarity in the Canadian culture that surrounds them here. Devoting significantly more resources towards researching and understanding these various factors that lead to radicalization may be beneficial.
In particular, Canadian policy makers would be wise to focus significant efforts on limiting the precursors to radicalization through various employment, community and cultural initiatives. Not only could this be a means of increasing national security but these efforts could, as well, eventually decrease the necessary enforcement resources currently spent on terrorist groups once they become operational. A shift in focus from band-aid solutions to root causes is necessary if domestic terrorism concerns in Canada are to be adequately addressed in upcoming years.