Evidence of meeting #31 for Public Safety and National Security in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was far-right.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Christian Leuprecht  Professor, As an Individual
Barbara Perry  Professor, As an Individual
Phil Gurski  Retired Canadian Intelligence Analyst, Terrorism Specialist, As an Individual
Martin Geoffroy  Director, Research Professor, Centre d’expertise et de formation sur les intégrismes religieux, les idéologies politiques et la radicalisation

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

He's not going to be allowed to answer it, only because we're running behind time. I apologize.

Mr. Harris, a minute and a half, please.

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Chair.

Dr. Perry, at the end of your commentary, you talked about anti-Semitism as not quite an afterthought, but that it wasn't part of the mainstream of your concerns. However, we've met with members of the Jewish community who are very concerned about the rise in anti-Semitism over the past number of years, four or five at least, and they are concerned about their security and safety and with direct attacks and ongoing threats against them.

Is this something that you've noticed, or is it something that's separate from this far-right extremism? What can be done about that?

4:25 p.m.

Professor, As an Individual

Dr. Barbara Perry

As I indicated, it's the foundation of so much else that's associated with the far right, but you're absolutely right, every indicator has suggested quite a dramatic increase over the last five years or so, from the B'nai Brith reports to the official data that we have. Certainly, just in the last three or four weeks with heightened activity in the Middle East, we've seen a really dramatic uptick in online attacks, as well as physical attacks on Jewish communities across the country, so that is absolutely a significant issue.

Even the COVID-related narratives are not just anti-Asian but also anti-Semitic, those very traditional age-old conspiracy theories rear their heads again.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

We're going to have to leave it there, unfortunately.

Mr. Van Popta, you have three minutes, and then Mr. Fisher will finish the round with three minutes.

Mr. Van Popta.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tako Van Popta Conservative Langley—Aldergrove, BC

Thank you very much.

Three minutes is not a lot of time to talk about such important issues, but I have a question to Dr. Leuprecht.

Thank you for your testimony. You had talked about the pyramid. Maybe you could expand on that a little bit. What I've scribbled down is that at the bottom are activists, who are maybe engaged in objectionable behaviour, then radicals, who are engaged in illegal behaviour, and then terrorists.

In an earlier response to Mr. Kurek's question, you said that bravado is not a good predicator, so what is a good predicator of somebody moving from one level to the other in this pyramid?

May 31st, 2021 / 4:25 p.m.

Professor, As an Individual

Dr. Christian Leuprecht

That is the million-dollar question, and I think we can show that this is really poorly established. The RCMP, when they testified two weeks ago, mentioned 273 cases in 2019 and 2020. How many of those did actually result in actionable charges? There was the Victoria legislature plot there.... I would say that, yes, this is a security intelligence problem, but it turns out that, on the criminal intelligence side, we're not doing that great perhaps a job. We can also infer that it's actually not as big a problem as the resources that we're actually devoting to this particular issue. It is easier for us to capture because we can see it and we have a visceral reaction, most human beings who live in a democracy have a visceral reaction against it, but it remains a phenomenon very much at the margins.

I think we need to remember here and circle back to the issue of the United States. The U.S. is a very polarized society and has always been, and its own political institutions reinforce that. I think we have political institutions that have always forced more of the views into a more moderate and reconciliatory institutional process, so, yes, there will always be some spillover in views from the United States, but by and large, our society has done a better job at moderating those and is helping to reconcile those within our political mainstream.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tako Van Popta Conservative Langley—Aldergrove, BC

You're not going to be able to answer this in 30 seconds, but you said that perhaps empowering CSIS would be a good tool for Canadian public safety. Could you expand on that for a few seconds?

4:25 p.m.

Professor, As an Individual

Dr. Christian Leuprecht

I think in general we have a relatively homeopathic approach in this country towards all matters of national security. If we improved the overall capabilities, capacities and skill sets of our national security agencies—both the criminal intelligence and security intelligence—it would have ancillary benefits for the whole spectrum of public security threats, including ideologically motivated violent extremism. This, of course, is critical in a highly diverse society where we cannot have people trying to antagonize one another by virtue of differing views, opinions or backgrounds.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Mr. Van Popta.

Mr. Fisher, you have the final three minutes, please.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Darren Fisher Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Dr. Perry, it's fair to say that some individuals are more susceptible to being radicalized. I think you touched on that. You used hypermasculinity as an example. With MP Damoff, you talked about the grievances and things that inspire right-wing extremist groups to do the things they do.

I'm interested in the fact these groups tend to hijack a movement. Whether it's a yellow vest or an anti-masker or an anti-vaxxer, they don't necessarily have their own...or they're looking for bigger numbers by joining and hijacking a movement.

Unfortunately, we only have a couple of minutes, but I thought maybe you could just touch on some of that phenomena.

4:30 p.m.

Professor, As an Individual

Dr. Barbara Perry

It's exactly as you describe it. They do have their own ideologies. I wouldn't say “coherent”, but often they have a foundation, anyway. In an attempt to make it more appealing to a broader audience, they will glom on to, if you will, those very typical, normal, banal, everyday kinds of grievances or anxieties, whether they're economic, cultural or even physical in terms of the threat of crime or in this case in the context of COVID, which is the threat of disease.

They will exploit those narratives and often explain them through the lens of race or immigration or gender, even. I think that's where the danger is of bringing unsuspecting, unintentional people into the movement.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Darren Fisher Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

That's very much like the anti-Asian hate we see rising in Canada.

4:30 p.m.

Professor, As an Individual

Dr. Barbara Perry

Yes, that's explaining a medical problem or a social problem through the lens of race.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Darren Fisher Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

You talked about the impact of COVID on all of us. We talked about meeting virtually rather than meeting in person.

Tell me the impact that might have had on some of these right-wing groups. I think I read somewhere that, because of COVID, some groups have been decommissioned, but I wonder whether they're just harder to see.

4:30 p.m.

Professor, As an Individual

Dr. Barbara Perry

I think they're actually more visible online. That's what we're seeing. There's more activity online and less activity offline because, believe it or not, they're actually obeying the stay-at-home orders as well, for the most part.

They're very active online and very visible. Some of them are easier to see than others. Even Proud Boys, who were designated, actually rebranded in Hamilton, for example, as Canada First. I think that, as we push them underground, they'll pop up in another form.

The Base and Atomwaffen were also designated. I don't think they're going to go anywhere, because those are the most extreme. They're the worst of the worst. They've just dug in their heels rather than disband. They're out there. I wouldn't advise going looking for them, but if you go looking for them, they're easily found.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Mr. Fisher.

Colleagues, unfortunately that brings us to the end of this hour. I'm sure you would dearly love this hour to continue, as I would. I'd dearly love to ask a few more questions, but time is the enemy here. On behalf of the committee, I want to thank Dr. Perry and Dr. Leuprecht for a very thoughtful, informed and very able analysis. It would be delightful to call you back. I just don't know when we might have that opportunity. Again, thank you very much.

We'll suspend while Dr. Perry and Dr. Leuprecht leave, and Mr. Gurski and Mr. Geoffroy get into the room.

We're suspended for a minute or two.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

We're resuming the meeting.

Thank you for appearing. One was on extremely short notice. Both are listed in the order of precedence.

We'll start with Mr. Gurski, a retired Canadian intelligence analyst, and then go to Martin Geoffroy, a director and research professor.

Mr. Gurski, you have seven minutes.

4:35 p.m.

Phil Gurski Retired Canadian Intelligence Analyst, Terrorism Specialist, As an Individual

Thank you very much, Chair, for inviting me today, as you said, on rather short notice. I found out about this a little before noon today, but I'm absolutely humbled to be asked to appear today. I had the opportunity to listen to the previous witnesses give their testimony, and I want to make a few preliminary remarks and then a few substantive remarks before my seven minutes are up.

I did spend 32 years working in security intelligence in Canada, both for the Communications Security Establishment, or CSE, as well as for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, or CSIS. The remarks I am going to share with you today are based on that experience. I am not an academic, despite the fact that I have written six books on terrorism since my so-called retirement from CSIS in 2015. My experience in looking at violent extremism, radicalization and terrorism stems from actually working on investigations, several hundred of which I did when I worked at CSIS as a strategic analyst.

Having said that, I have been retired for six years, which means I have not had daily access to intelligence for more than half a decade, so I would ask the members of this committee to bear in mind that I don't think my knowledge is that out of date. I don't think a lot has changed since 2015, but it's important to realize that the remarks I'm going to give you today are based, in part, on my historical experiences with dealing on counterterrorism investigations in Canada and abroad, and that they do date, though, slightly under six years in terms of their age.

I was a little bit surprised, in all honesty, listening to the previous witnesses—both of whom I know very well and have a great deal of respect for—that in 2021 we are no longer talking about the elephant in the room, which is Islamist extremism. If you read the headlines anywhere in the world on a daily basis, and I'm not just talking about Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria and Sahel but western Europe and other parts, the United States, etc., you see that not a day goes by without either an attack or an arrest when it comes to Islamist terrorism.

If you look at the global terrorism index, which is the single best resource in the world—they issue an annual report on terrorism—you see that 99.4% of all terrorist attacks in the world on a yearly basis are carried out by what we call Islamist extremism. You notice I use the term “Islamist extremism”. I'm not a big fan of this newfangled IMVE, ideologically motivated violent extremism. I think it sacrifices accuracy on the altar of I'm not sure what, but to me you can't deal with a problem unless you name it accurately. This is why we talk about far-right extremism, far-left extremism. This is why we talk about Islamist extremism, or Hindu extremism in India, or even Buddhist extremism, which should be an oxymoron. There are Buddhist terrorists, actually, in the world.

I just want to push back a little bit. That terminology was not active when I worked at CSIS. It came in after my retirement. I'm not going to draw any conclusions based on that, but I do recommend that we call things what they are and be as accurate as possible.

I don't disagree with Christian Leuprecht from RMC—again, I've known Christian for a very long time—when he talks about this being a small problem. He's absolutely correct, to a certain extent. It's true that Canada has not faced a great deal of terrorism in the entirety of its 154 years as a country. In fact, I just published a book on “A history of terrorism in Canada from Confederation to the present”, and attacks have been few and far between.

At the same time, the reason there have been so few attacks is that CSIS and the RCMP have successfully thwarted some very important plots. You may recall that this past weekend there was an article in Global Media, as well as the National Post, about an individual called Zakaria Amara who was up for parole. He was a member of the Toronto 18, a case that I followed from the very first day until their arrest in June 2006. Nothing happened because of the RCMP and CSIS. Had that group been successful in carrying out their attack in, probably, August 2006, they would have killed hundreds and wounded thousands of people, but we stopped them.

I think when we talk about numbers we should celebrate the fact that, as a nation, we do not suffer from successful terrorist attacks on a regular basis, which is true. We simply don't have the critical numbers that other countries have, but let's not lose sight of the fact that a lot of plots were foiled. When you work in security intelligence you realize that nobody cares when you get it right. Nobody cares when you stop an attack. They only care when you don't stop the attack, and that's when fingers are pointed. Why didn't you stop it? Why didn't you recruit sources?

I don't disagree with the previous witnesses that, when it comes to terrorism as a national priority, we don't have the criticality that many of our partners have. I'll give you one statistic that should illustrate this, I think, very profoundly. The CSIS equivalent in the United Kingdom is called MI5, the British Security Service. In recent years, they have stated publicly that they have 23,000 people of interest and 30 concurrent threat-to-life plots that they're worried about. Let those numbers sink in for a second—23,000 people capable of carrying out an act of terrorism and 30 actual plots. In my time at CSIS, we had a couple of hundred investigations at any given time. The numbers simply don't match what our allies have.

More importantly, one of the previous guests talked about talk versus action, and it's true. There are many more talkers than there are walkers. Many people talk the talk and don't walk the walk. You don't know who's going to walk the walk until you investigate them. There are no reliable predictors in this regard, but that's why you do investigations. That's why you look into people, to determine if this person is serious or this person is merely spouting things online or off-line to sound important, to raise a grievance or to share their anger with people. That's why we have CSIS; this is why we have the RCMP.

Not surprisingly, I'm a big supporter of CSIS. I worked there for 15 years. I'm a big supporter of the RCMP. I think these organizations do a fine job on our behalf. I think the bottom line is that they have to be adequately resourced. Even if the problem is not as large as it is in many countries around the world, it doesn't mean the problem has gone away.

Dr. Perry talked about the far right. I don't have a lot to say about the far right; it wasn't my specialty. There are a variety of types of violent extremism, terrorist movements out there, some domestic and some international, that still pose a threat to Canadian national security.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Unfortunately, we have to leave it there.

4:45 p.m.

Retired Canadian Intelligence Analyst, Terrorism Specialist, As an Individual

Phil Gurski

I just hope that the nation has the resources necessary to deal with it.

Thank you.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you.

Madam Larouche.

4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Andréanne Larouche Bloc Shefford, QC

A few times, the interpreter had trouble making out what Mr. Gurski was saying. He may need to adjust his mike or headset, I'm not sure.

4:45 p.m.

Retired Canadian Intelligence Analyst, Terrorism Specialist, As an Individual

Phil Gurski

Thank you, madam.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Maybe the interpreters could indicate in the future, as Mr. Gurski responds to questions, whether there's any issue that may be something to do with his microphone, his inflection or something of that nature.

If we could just keep that in mind, then we can respond.

Professor Geoffroy, you have the floor.

4:45 p.m.

Martin Geoffroy Director, Research Professor, Centre d’expertise et de formation sur les intégrismes religieux, les idéologies politiques et la radicalisation

Is it my turn now?