CSIS Stopped Monitoring Right-Wing Extremism Ahead of Mosque Massacre

After Alexandre Bissonnette killed six Muslim men the national security agency re-upped its efforts monitoring the threat.

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Jun 21 2018, 6:50pm

Alexandre Bissonnette. Photo via Facebook.

Less than a year before Alexandre Bissonnette walked into a Quebec City mosque and took six lives in cold blood, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) stopped monitoring right-wing extremism.

As pointed out in a recent Toronto Star story, an annual Security Intelligence Review Committee (a CSIS watchdog group) report states that CSIS ceased investigating right-wing extremism as they determined it wasn’t a “national security threat.” Instead, the national security agency decided the far right was best addressed by local policing.

CSIS ended its investigation of right-wing extremism in March 2016, according to the report. It described activities of right-wing extremists as close to "lawful protest, advocacy, and dissent” and did not meet “the threshold of a CSIS investigation.”

This turn of events doesn’t come as a shock to Ryan Scrivens, a scholar at Concordia University who co-authored an exhaustive report on the state of right-wing extremism in Canada. “CSIS has made it quite clear, not only in recent times but during the time that we conducted a nationwide study on the threat from the extreme right, that they understood the movement as a threat to public order, not a national security threat,” he told VICE.

“Our research suggests that when law enforcement officials downplay and even overlook the threat from the extreme right, hate groups, particularly the more violent groups, tend to gain momentum,” Scrivens said.

CSIS had stopped monitoring far right groups for nearly a year, but that changed on January 29, 2017, after six Muslim men lost their lives at the hands of Bissonnette. In an interview with police, shortly after he killed the men, the 27-year-old said he was doing so to protect Canada from an invasion. According to the SIRC report, after the organization re-upped their efforts they engaged “more extensively and frequently with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and other law enforcement partners to better understand the threat posed by right-wing extremism that would fall under CSIS’s mandate.”

According to the Star , this attitude towards far-right extremism is at odds with CSIS’s own statement in 2015, which found that “lone wolf” attacks more often come from the far-right than Islamist groups. In recent years there has been a boom in far-right groups within Canada. This extends from anti-Islamic “patriot groups,” to the alt-right, to sovereign citizens, to Atomwaffen (a neo-Nazi terror cell with blood on their hands) whose activity in Canada VICE detailed in a report earlier this week.

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Monitoring groups like this isn’t an easy endeavour, says Scrivens. The organizational capabilities of the internet and the evolving, fluid nature of far-right groups in Canada makes them a little bit of a headache to track.

“Right-wing extremist groups in Canada are difficult to monitor because most have a very short shelf life,” said Scrivens. “Within these groups are those who lack ideological commitment. Other groups experience high levels of in-fighting and transiency. Together, these already unstable groups become less stable, and it is a challenge to monitor them because they are splintering and morphing into new groups.”

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