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

5:25 p.m.

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

Martin Geoffroy

You're absolutely right. However, since there are only 20 seconds left, I can't say much more about this topic.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

You have eight seconds now.

5:25 p.m.

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

Martin Geoffroy

I have eight seconds.

You're partly right, but there's more to it than that.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

Thank you.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Ms. Lambropoulos.

Madam Larouche, you have a minute and a half.

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Andréanne Larouche Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Gurski and Mr. Geoffroy, your presentations were very informative.

I'll try to ask both of you a quick question. Mr. Geoffroy could answer first.

You spoke about the only way for these groups to be heard. That's important to them. I'd like to establish a connection. You also spoke about an increase on the ground, but I want to address the Internet issue. We know that algorithms on the Internet create echo chambers, which push vulnerable people into extremist groups, where they develop a hatred for a particular group.

How can we change the rules and algorithms in these online spaces without affecting freedom of expression, which seems so important to these groups, who want to be heard?

5:25 p.m.

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

Martin Geoffroy

Excellent question. Of course, the answer isn't straightforward.

I believe in educating people, starting with young people. That's what I do. I educate people about cognitive biases. It's becoming increasingly difficult to understand how scientific discourse works. This has been exacerbated during the pandemic. People don't know what constitutes a double-blind peer-reviewed academic journal. They take all kinds of information sources from the Internet. That's where you see people like Dr. Raoult. By the way, Dr. Raoult's research on hydroxychloroquine has never been published in an academic journal. He made what we call an argument from authority by saying that he was an immunologist, that he had received a Nobel Prize and so on. Arguments from authority are very popular with extremist groups. The groups may be against authority, but they may also support the authority of these people.

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you.

I understand you can also go online to rate your professor—always a bit of fun. I wish I had gone to university when I could rate professors.

With that, Mr. Harris, you have a minute and a half.

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I have a question for Mr. Gurski. You said that you heard the previous witnesses. Dr. Leuprecht talked about 12 mechanisms of radicalization, from personal grievance down to martyrdom. In your work with CSIS identifying who it is you follow to see what happens to them, how do you pick from those if it's so difficult, as Dr. Leuprecht pointed out, to actually predict who would end up in the other score?

Is there a method of selecting from this particular group? How do you actually do that?

May 31st, 2021 / 5:30 p.m.

Retired Canadian Intelligence Analyst, Terrorism Specialist, As an Individual

Phil Gurski

That's a great question, Mr. Harris. I would simply say that we at CSIS have the legislative authority to investigate threats to national security based on what's called section 2 of the CSIS Act, and you kind of just go with your gut in many ways.

I will say that we came across many cases of people who appeared to just talk the talk and then would switch in a heartbeat to actually planning something, whether it was travelling abroad to join ISIS or things like that. It's not an exact science, and this is what worries me when we try to delineate this in such ways that it's only 12 mechanisms or that it's only 12 of this. Life is, unfortunately, much more complicated than that, and I think a lot of us simply went either on our instinct or on the fact that we'd seen many previous investigations that were analogous to that.

We didn't come up with any kind of foolproof system, and I would submit to you, sir, that it's, in fact, a fool's errand to try to reduce this to something that is actually as simple as that. A lot of it is learning as you go and having the necessary resources to take a look at those people when they actually start to do or plan to do some very dangerous things.

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Mr. Harris.

Madam Stubbs, you have three minutes, please.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Shannon Stubbs Conservative Lakeland, AB

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

Yes, it seems evident from the diversity of perspectives of the many witnesses we've heard from already that this is extremely complex and that monolithic applications, perspectives or approaches on these issues don't necessarily seem to be apt.

Following on a question from Jack Harris, Mr. Gurski, given your lived experience, your work experience and also the extensive writing you've done on the how versus the why of radicalization, with the remaining time, I thought you might want to expand on that for the committee.

5:30 p.m.

Retired Canadian Intelligence Analyst, Terrorism Specialist, As an Individual

Phil Gurski

Thank you, Mrs. Stubbs.

You know, it really sounds simple, folks, but you go where the information leads you. I think the problem is that, if you go in with preconceived notions, you start making errors. I wrote about this a lot in my very first book, The Threat From Within. If you assume from the outset, for example, that poor socio-economic status is a large contributor or predictor, you'll find out that you're wrong as many times as you're right.

The bottom line is that we entrust our law enforcement officers and security intelligence officers to gather the information and see where it's going to take them, and to try to make decisions based on what they're actually seeing, as opposed to some kind of pre-arranged framework. By saying this, I'm not pooh-poohing the work done by academics such as Monsieur Geoffroy. I think it's very valuable, but those of us who work in security intelligence, in all honesty, didn't have the time to incorporate those theories, because we were too busy doing investigations. Were they helpful? Yes, they were, but they didn't frame or dictate the directions in which we took our investigations.

I'm not sure if that helps to answer that question, but you're right that it is extremely complicated and each case is different, unfortunately.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Shannon Stubbs Conservative Lakeland, AB

I have a question for Dr. Geoffroy.

Dr. Perry spoke about this a bit. There are, of course, reports that in Quebec they have the highest rates of anti-Semitic incidents. The highest rates were in 2018 and 2019. I know earlier you said, in your words, the most violent year was in 2020. I wonder if you have any comments on that.

What is the driver of that? Do you know why that would be the case, localized in Quebec?

5:35 p.m.

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

Martin Geoffroy

In terms of the specific nature of far-right groups in Quebec, there's obviously the fact that the groups are bilingual and that they're at the crossroads between American and French extremist groups. A great deal of anti-Semitism comes from French far-right groups. As you know, France has a significant history of anti-Semitism.

This is spread through certain groups. The Fédération des Québécois de souche, for example, is very anti-Semitic. There are several fundamentalist groups. I spoke earlier about the White Berets. The members of this community in Rougemont, near my home, are anti-Semitic. They constantly talk about the global Jewish conspiracy and so on. This isn't new. This anti-Semitism is reflected in the QAnon movement's obsession with George Soros, who is Jewish.

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Unfortunately we're going to have to leave it there.

Madam Damoff, please. You have the last three minutes.

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Thank you, Chair, and thank you to both witnesses.

Mr. Geoffroy, thank you so much for the work you're doing.

You mentioned earlier the attack at the Quebec City mosque. Actually, I don't want to say his name, but the shooter was a law-abiding gun owner prior to going in and killing six men and wounding five others. Recently, in Quebec City, there was someone who was arrested in Mr. Lightbound's riding with an arsenal of weapons and bombs. There was a similar arrest in Alberta at the end of April. What is the connection with far-right extremism?

Obviously, at the Quebec City mosque, we're seeing a rise in anti-Semitism. We're also seeing a rise in Islamophobia. Neither is acceptable in any way. Could you talk about the connection between these terrorist acts, potential terrorist acts and far-right extremism?

5:35 p.m.

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

Martin Geoffroy

Yes. Many people say, for example, that Alexandre Bissonnette didn't commit a terrorist act. I personally consider that he committed a terrorist act.

Alexandre Bissonnette wasn't charged with terrorism because it would have been pointless. We already knew that he would receive a life sentence, or close to it. Since it's much more difficult to charge a person with terrorism than with murder, the terrorism prosecutions were dropped because they would have been a waste of time. However, if the terrorism charge had been pursued, the acts could have been called terrorist acts.

This had a devastating impact on the Muslim community in Quebec City. The people at the Great Mosque of Quebec City consider this incident a terrorist event. They were very hurt by the fact that it wasn't called a terrorist event and that Mr. Bissonnette wasn't charged with terrorism. This gives them the impression that a double standard exists. When these types of acts are committed by a Muslim person, the acts are always called terrorism, not insanity.

Moreover, according to the conspiracy theory of Quebec's far-right groups, Alexandre Bissonnette isn't inspired by the far right, but instead suffers from insanity. However, if Alexandre Bissonnette really suffered from insanity or mental illness, he would be at the Institut Philippe-Pinel and not in prison. This isn't a matter of insanity. However, as I said earlier, we often have cultural biases.

I want to address what Ms. Larouche and Ms. Lambropoulos asked earlier. Our current research on right-wing women shows that most of these women have been physically and sexually abused in their lives. We'll be releasing this significant data in the coming months. I'm giving you the scoop today. These groups attract certain types of vulnerable women who continue to suffer abuse within these groups.

With psychologist Louis Brunet, I'm working on an account of the life of a woman who belonged to one of these groups. Throughout her life, this woman had been a victim of domestic violence and abuse. We're finding that the far-right groups under review are perfect places to sexually abuse women.

I've been studying sectarian groups for over 20 years. This looks very similar to the types of abuses committed within sectarian groups. This happens in the context of a misogynistic culture, where women are trapped in dangerous groups under the pretext of political reasons.

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

We're going to have to leave it there. Thank you for that.

Colleagues, that does bring our time to an end.

On your behalf, I'd like to thank our last-minute witness, Mr. Gurski, for stepping in, and Professor Geoffroy, for his obviously passionate and knowledgeable information in this field.

Before I adjourn this meeting, I would note that after our meeting on Wednesday, where we have the minister and the commissioner, I'd like to add about 10 to 15 minutes, so we could get some idea of what we want to do with our views on the Bastarache report. Please make a note that the next meeting will be a bit longer than normal.

Could the parties give some indication to the chair and the clerk as to what they want to do with the supplementary estimates (A)? That would be helpful, bearing in mind that we have a very heavily negotiated and jam-packed agenda.

With that, again, thank you to both witnesses.

The meeting is adjourned.