Mr. Chair, vice-chairs and members of the committee, thank you for inviting me today to discuss this very important topic. I would be happy to answer your questions in either official language.
I've provided my text in English, so I will follow it.
Violent extremism in Canada is a marginal phenomenon, and situations arising out of ideologically motivated violent extremism garner a lot of public attention. That's followed by political commitments or opportunities, such as the hearings that we're having today, to move on certain policies.
Detecting domestic IMVE and disrupting it is costly, and costs are disproportionate to the benefit. There are many other threats, such as cyber-threats, foreign interference and foreign espionage, that are far more consequential for Canada's security, prosperity and democracy, but they're difficult to quantify publicly in the absence of human casualties. If done better and more systematically, rebalancing Canada's national security and policing posture, with a greater emphasis on cyber, organized crime, money laundering and protecting Canadians from foreign malign actors, would have a far greater benefit for public safety and for depriving IMVE of resources and enablers than the current approach, whose track record seems neither particularly efficient, nor particularly effective.
Who is likely to sympathize with, provide material support for or actually engage in violent extremism and why has become one of the more pressing security questions of our time. That question is made more difficult by the very small number of those in this category, on the one hand, and the vast majority of people in comparable circumstances who are very resilient to radicalization. I provide some numbers that I will skip over, but I'll simply point out that, as shown in testimony before this committee, terrorist attacks and incidents, although extremely tragic, are very rare compared with many other incidents of violence and violence related to ideology.
We need to distinguish between ideologically motivated violent extremism and ideologically motivated extremist violence. One concerns the narrative; the other concerns action. We can lay this out in two pyramids: the narrative pyramid and the action pyramid. These two pyramids are distinct from one another. In the action pyramid, we have terrorists at the apex, then radicals and, below them, activist sympathizers. You got a similar description from Tim Hahlweg of CSIS, with passive engagement, active engagement and mobilizing to violence.
The relationship between thought and action isn't clear. It's not a conveyor belt, and it's not causal. This raises a host of questions. How do individuals end up in one of those three radical action categories? Are there three different kinds of people who end up in these different categories? What are the drivers of the transition between these categories? What motivates an individual to cross boundaries, passing from non-radical to radical or from radical to terrorist? What are the barriers to these transitions? Why do so few people become radicalized, and is there anything special about these few? Do the categories of action and the transitions between different categories depend on the particular cause being espoused, or do all movements and issues exhibit commonalities in the structure of radicalization?
From the perspective of intelligence and law enforcement, we might also ask, is it possible to tell which category of action an individual will move toward by examining an individual’s attitudes? More generally, can current attitudes predict the future political trajectory of a particular individual?
It turns out that the relationship between narrative and action is indeterminate. Few in the narrative pyramid ever move to action, and action is not necessarily motivated by belief in a narrative. I've sketched 12 mechanisms—at the micro, meso and macro levels—that we've identified. It turns out that ideology is one of those 12, and in quite a few cases ideology is not present at all. People engage in violence for a host of reasons that have nothing to do with ideology, so it's neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for violence.
When ideology is present, more often than not ideology becomes the justification and the rationale for the violence rather than the cause of the violence per se.
For policy purposes, we need to treat the problem of narrative and the problem of action as distinct problems. We see this as such in Canada, the problem of mass radicalization—that is to say, entire communities that are radicalized—is not really a problem. What we see is individuals who are radicalized. This is a question about those individuals who are sympathetic to violence.
I would say that in terms of those investigations—I explained this in my brief—we don't have a particularly great track record in terms of the RCMP and success of the RCMP.
Democracy is on a slippery slope when we merely hold political beliefs that, however objectionable they may be, end up being equated with criminal behaviour. With the exception of a few offences such as incitement and hate speech that cross into the criminal realm, the hallmark of democracy is to police criminal action, not opinions.
Generally speaking, radicalization per se—a shift in beliefs, feelings and actions towards increased support for one side or the other—is not a problem. The challenge and test for democracy always comes at the margins.
I would conclude by saying that overplaying and politicizing the threat of IMVE by going after a needle in a haystack.... A better approach would be for the government to improve how Canada is postured to detect, disrupt, contain and deter against the full spectrum of national security threats in the first place. To that effect, we can focus on federal police reform to make federal police more functional, with a foreign human intelligence service and a dedicated criminal intelligence service.
There are many far greater threat vectors to public safety that Canadian communities confront day in and day out. They are from non-conventional threats by state and non-state actors such as cyber, and conventional threats such as organized crime, money laundering and the like, on which a government concerned about national security could take concerted action that would have far more direct and immediate impacts on public safety than IMVE.