Since news broke that the suspect behind a terrorist attack in Edmonton was a Somali refugee, the most alarmist and factually unsound myth perpetuated by the anti-refugee camp has been popping up in all corners of the internet: that terrorists are coming into Canada, masquerading as refugees. But a quick look at past terrorism cases in Canada and research in the US shows this simply isn't true.
On Saturday evening, the suspect—since identified by media as 30-year-old Abdulahi Hasan Sharif—allegedly drove his car into an Edmonton police officer who was doing crowd control at a football game and sent him flying into the air. He then got out of the car and repeatedly stabbed the officer with a knife, before running off on foot. An ISIS flag was found in the car, police said. Over three hours later, after his name was recognized by a cop at a checkstop, Sharif allegedly sped off towards downtown Edmonton as the police chased him. He ended up hitting and injuring four pedestrians.
It's been less than 48 hours, and we don't know much about Sharif yet. We know he came to Canada as a government-sponsored refugee in 2012. In 2015, after a coworker who heard him openly support ISIS reported it to the RCMP, he was investigated for espousing extremist ideology. But officers concluded at the time that there was "insufficient evidence" to make the arrest and it was determined that he wasn't a threat. We don't know when and how he was radicalized, and whether it happened in Somalia or on Canadian soil.
But that hasn't stopped people online from using Sharif to demonize all refugees and bash the government that welcomes them in. Also among their targets: Muslims, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Immigration minister Ahmed Hussen—himself a Somali refugee. Some lauded Trump, whose latest refugee ban targets issuing visas to citizens of eight countries, including Somalia.
NHL player Max Domi (son of Tie) tweeted out his support to Edmonton, but ended the post with: "This is why we have to be aware of some of the people we let into our country." Ezra Levant, founder of right-wing media outlet The Rebel tweeted, "While a Somali refugee was on a terrorist spree across Edmonton, our Somali-Canadian immigration minister was partying like a Trudeau." Hussen was walking the runway in a fashion show, in support of Sick Kids (Toronto's children's hospital) at the time.
This anxiety isn't new. It was a common theme as Canada resettled 25,000 Syrian refugees, with those who opposed it refusing to accept Canada's stringent vetting process was good enough. An Ipsos poll commissioned by Global News this summer showed that 51 percent of Canadians agreed that there are "terrorists pretending to be refugees who will enter Canada to cause violence and destruction."
As Stephanie Carvin, a terrorism expert at Carleton University points out, terrorism in Canada is much less likely to come from outside our borders, and even less likely to come from refugees.
"This is going to be a kind of confirmation bias for a lot of people," she said. "They're going to cherry pick this and say there's a danger for refugees, but I would suggest more of an exception than the rule.
"Radicalization needs to be understood as a homegrown phenomenon in Canada, and I think since 9/11, people have tended to view terrorism as something that happens elsewhere and comes to Canada, and that's actually not true. By and large, Canada produces its own violent extremists."
In the US, the majority of jihadis have been American citizens or legal residents, not foreign infiltrators. Since 9/11, out of 415 jihadists in the US, only 16 were refugees or asylum seekers, according to a recent study by New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, DC.
According to a study by CATO Institute, of the more than 3.2 million refugees who were admitted to the US between 1975 and 2015, only 20 had attempted or succeeded in carrying out terrorist attacks. Three American citizens have ever been killed by terrorists who arrived as refugees—Cuban exiles in the 1970s. The libertarian think tank, which has sided with Trump on many other issues, called his executive order a "response to a phantom menace."
While such a study hasn't been done in Canada, it's safe to say, the results would be similar. Even if one was carried out, it wouldn't account for non-jihadi incidents of violence in Canada including the Quebec City mosque shooting, the 2014 Moncton police murders or the Polytechnique mass shooting.
A vast majority of known jihadis in Canada have been by Canadian citizens, who born in this country or arrived here as children —not refugees. From Alberta alone, there's Damian Clairmont, the Gordon brothers, and Salmaan Ashrafi, Canadian citizens who became foreign fighters. The same goes for outside the province—the Larmond brothers, Aaron Driver, John McGuire, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, and Martin Couture-Rouleau were all Canadian citizens.
"Being Canadian might actually be a bigger counterterrorism problem because it means they can go overseas, get training, and automatically be allowed back in," Carvin points out, adding that in the last 10 years, Canada has actually exported more terrorism than it's brought in. According to the latest figures provided by CSIS last year, 180 Canadians have been involved in terrorist-related activities abroad, and about 60 have returned.
Carvin, who used to regularly get asked by people who work on border and law enforcement issues for a profile of a violent extremist, said if it was possible to build a profile, "we would have solved this by now."
"The diversity is astonishing."
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