Screenshot via YouTube.
Following the brazen attack on two soldiers in Quebec on Monday, and the terrible events that unfolded at Parliament Hill Wednesday morning, the reaction at home and abroad was a mix of shock and disbelief. Many were left stunned at the idea that the sleepy, peace-loving nation of Canada would be hit by what would end up being two homegrown attacks by radicalized citizens.
Here’s the thing: for anyone following national security in this country, these attacks should not come as a surprise. In fact, as Glenn Greenwald recently outlined on the Intercept following Monday’s attack, it’s more of a surprise that it didn’t happen sooner.
Canada has been long seen as a safe haven for extremism; a mix of liberal immigration policies and a belief in an inclusive society have made it the perfect place for planning and plotting, as evidenced by the string of attacks planned or carried out in Canada. Unfortunately we also have a rocky history of giving citizenship to militants from abroad. It's well-known, Toronto-born Omar Khadr—the last western citizen to be held by the US at the Guantanamo Bay—came from a family known for their connections to Osama bin Laden and had alleged connections to al Qaeda. Add to that Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan beginning in 2001 when our soldiers and war planes actively fought in a Muslim country, and you have a climate ripe for fostering homegrown extremism.
As VICE News recently reported the two attacks this week come amidst the deployment of six Canadian CF-18 combat aircrafts destined to join the armada amassing against ISIS. It’s now clear that Canada—like France, Belgium and Australia—is not immune to these sorts of attacks, and you don’t need to look too far in the past to see how close we’ve already come to planned acts of terrorism on Canadian soil.
In April of last year, Canadian and American authorities disrupted a plot to attack Via Rail passenger trains running between Toronto and New York. In 2006, the infamous Toronto 18 were arrested after plotting a series of attacks against targets in Southern Ontario allegedly inspired by al Qaeda. Just before that in 2004, a homegrown terrorist living in his parents basement in Ottawa was arrested for allegedly creating bomb detonators for al Qaeda.
Not to mention, the Air India bombing of 1984 was the most spectacular terrorist attack in Canadian history—and the work of Canadian-based terrorists who plotted within our borders. But these incidents, in comparison to the latest from Rouleau and Zehaf-Bibeau, were more organised, planned out, and had more moving parts. It’s this sort of increased complexity that allows these kind of attacks to be more easily detected and stopped, as the communication networks used are more likely to be surveilled by law enforcement.
But by including Canadians in ISIS’ recent call on supporters to kill citizens of countries that have entered the anti-ISIS coalition “in any manner or way however it may be,” they have effectively changed the game on terrorism at home. And with Canada’s latest bombing campaign set to take effect, we’re now as much a combatant in Iraq as American forces.
The fact is, terrorist attacks have long been a threat in Canada. But now, with more active engagement in the Middle East, at a time when potential threats are perhaps more easily radicalized and then instantly martyred on social media, so-called "people of interest" that call Canada home now have even more reason to act out.
In a press conference following Wednesday’s attack, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson spoke to the challenges faced in stopping lone-wolf attacks saying,“These are difficult threats to detect… There is no way to know when or where these attacks will happen.” Paulson went on to say that there are currently 93 “high-risk” individuals that are under investigation as potential threats to the country. It’s both interesting and a bit worrisome to note that according to Paulson, Wednesday’s shooter Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was not on that list.