Thank you, Chair and honourable committee members, for having me. Hopefully you'll be able to squeeze out quickly everything I have to offer.
I'm pleased to be here this afternoon on behalf of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the advocacy agent of the Jewish Federations of Canada, which represents about 150,000 Jewish Canadians affiliated coast to coast through their local federations.
According to Statistics Canada, Jewish Canadians are targeted by hate- and bias-motivated crime at a rate higher than for any other identifiable group. The ancient toxic hatred of Jews is not unique to our country and is rightly constrained to the margins of liberal democratic societies like ours. Alarmingly, though, anti-Semitism continues to manifest in brutal acts of terrorism, often inspired by warped Islamist ideology.
Jewish communities represent a primary target for terrorist violence all over the world. Attacks against Jews have taken place in Israel, Argentina, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, and the United States, with innocent men, women, and children murdered in their homes, places of worship, and community centres. As an at-risk community, we have a major stake in Canada's approach to preserving national security generally and in counterterrorism in particular. There's significant fear within our community, not only of Jewish Canadians being harmed in attacks abroad, but also that such attacks are possible or even likely here in Canada.
The memory of the 2004 firebombing of a Jewish school in Montreal looms large, compounded by threats made by the would-be VIA Rail bombers regarding Jewish targets, and the call by al Shabaab, a listed terrorist entity, for an attack on Jewish-owned businesses in North America, which included a call against the West Edmonton Mall.
Additionally, Public Safety Canada's 2016 public report on the terrorist threat to Canada notes that Hezbollah, the listed entity widely believed to be responsible for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, has networks operating here.
We're encouraged that the current government and its predecessors have consistently taken significant steps to protect Canadians from terrorist violence, and we appreciate the opportunity to contribute our perspective and hope it will be helpful in continuing the development of a national security framework that keeps Canadians safe at home and abroad.
Many terrorist attacks, like the one that claimed the life of Corporal Nathan Cirillo here in 2014, are inspired by the messages of terrorist groups but are not necessarily the result of direct calls for specific actions. The Criminal Code provision allowing for the seizure of terrorist propaganda addresses this, contributing to broader efforts to counter radicalization and prevent terrorist recruitment here in Canada.
The al Shabaab video that I referenced is relevant here. Were something like this to be posted online in Canada tomorrow, a judge could order that Canadian Internet service providers remove it, limiting the scope of its impact. Critics of this provision have raised concerns about the possible breadth of what might be considered terrorist propaganda and whether this provision would cause the censorship of offensive ideas that aren't directly linked to violence. Our community is deeply committed to promoting civil liberty and free expression for all Canadians, but neither can be absolute in a liberal, democratic society.
While the seizure of terrorist propaganda places limits on acceptable speech, it is in our view a legitimate restriction, demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society, that strikes an appropriate balance between freedom of speech on the one hand and the right to life and security of the person on the other.
This provision is complemented by the criminalization of advocacy or promotion of terrorism offences in general. Critics have argued that previously existing provisions outlawing incitement were sufficient and that this one is too broad. However, terrorist recruiters are often sophisticated in their approach. They can take note of the law's limitations and adjust their approach accordingly so that while still instigating terrorist activity, their statements are general enough to remain beyond the reach of the law.
A founding member of al Qaeda-turned-MI5 double agent, Aimen Dean, recounted to the BBC his experience working around U.K. incitement laws with regard to terrorism. He was free to give theological justification for attacks and to promote al Qaeda's actions through those theological justifications without violating the law. He noted, and I quote, “You can't specifically urge someone to go. You can't specifically call for an attack.... You have to be clever about how you phrase your words.”
This provision denies those seeking to radicalize or recruit Canadians the legal leeway to be clever, but dangerous, with their words.
The call by al Shabaab for attacks on Jewish-owned businesses was deemed by the RCMP to be a very general comment, not a specific threat. That's what they said. Criminalizing general calls for terrorist violence makes it more difficult for individuals or groups to inspire attacks against Canadians in this way.
CIJA looks forward to the establishment of the Office of the Community Outreach and Counter-radicalization Coordinator, which I understand will happen soon. This is an important initiative, and if given the resources and mandate necessary to succeed, it will constitute an essential component of Canada's national security framework. In order to maximize the impact of this institution and ensure its success, it's imperative that this office be given a mandate not just to de-radicalize those who are already on the path to violent extremism but also to prevent those vulnerable to radicalization from being seized in its grip. By countering hate, we can help disrupt the radicalization process at its starting point. In this respect, Jews are often a canary in the coal mine.
Retired Major-General Ed Fitch led the Canadian Forces red team in simulating terrorist attacks against the Vancouver Olympics to test the vulnerabilities and the security plan that was being put in place. He recently noted in The Hill Times that:
Security services in Europe recognize that Islamist attacks against the general population have been foreshadowed by similar acts of terror against Jewish targets, including a Jewish museum in Belgium, a synagogue in Denmark, and a Jewish school and kosher supermarket in France—all in the past few years.
Here in Canada the security establishment must continue working closely with the Jewish community to monitor anti-Semitic extremism as an early warning sign in identifying those prone to radicalization.
The city of Berlin is implementing a pilot program now along these lines. It's funded by the German federal government and it focuses on the role of teachers in identifying anti-Semitism specifically as one of the precursors to radicalization, and training these teachers to intervene and steer vulnerable youth away from this dangerous path.
Whether we are considering the attacks on a synagogue in Jerusalem, a gay nightclub in Orlando, an African-American church in Charleston, or a mosque in Quebec City, extreme hate continues to precipitate extreme violence. Canada's counter-radicalization efforts should specifically address hatred directed toward Jewish Canadians, black Canadians, LGBTQ Canadians, Muslim Canadians, women, or any other identifiable group as a potential foundation for violent extremism.
Spray-painted hate messages, rocks thrown through windows, and other hate-motivated destruction of property could also be indicators of radicalization or precursors for more serious violent crime down the road. Under current law, hate- or bias-motivated mischief targeting a religious institution such as a synagogue is a specific offence with specific and serious penalties. However, this designation doesn't extend to other institutions such as schools or community centres, which are similarly targeted all too often.
Bill C-305, which I hope you will all be supporting this evening at second reading, would close that gap in the Criminal Code, extending the penalties in place for targeting places of worship to other communal facilities as well. We urge all parties to ensure the swift passage of this bill through committee and third reading to make it law.
It is exceedingly important that government also help vulnerable communities to prevent attacks from taking place, or at the very least, to minimize the danger they pose. The federal security infrastructure program, or SIP, assists those at risk of hate-motivated crime to improve security infrastructure, sending a clear signal that those targeted by hate don't have to shoulder the burden alone.
The nature of the threats and the cost of security measures have changed significantly since the SIP was first launched in 2008, as have the needs and number of at-risk groups. While synagogues are disproportionately targeted and impacted by hate crimes, Sikh temples, Islamic mosques, Hindu temples, and Christian churches have all been targeted as well.
According to Statistics Canada, an average of three hate crimes take place every day in this country, ranging from racist graffiti to more serious vandalism to arson to assault and, in some cases, more extreme acts of violence.
Security infrastructure is required to protect at-risk community institutions from an array of threats. Jewish community centres, schools, and synagogues are increasingly concerned about active-shooter scenarios, similar to the terrorist attacks that we've seen take such a horrific toll elsewhere.
CIJA welcomed the recent steps taken by the Minister of Public Safety to modernize the SIP. In particular, support for internal security measures and access controls will have a really meaningful impact on the safety and well-being of vulnerable groups. At the same time, we've encouraged the government to consider a number of additional improvements to SIP that would further enhance its effectiveness, which I would be happy to discuss in the round of questions.
I think that I'm probably at around 10 minutes now, so I'll stop here. I'd be happy to speak further about any of the things I've raised so far, including those recommendations about bolstering the SIP, in addition to our position on CSIS's expanded role and proper oversight.
Thank you very much.