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half a decade, so I would ask the members of this committee to bear in mind that I don't think my knowledge is that out of date.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.