Thank you, Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen, honourable members, for this opportunity to have a discussion with you.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to keep track of my time because, as you know, professors are not nearly as disciplined as MPs in keeping to their speaking time. I'm counting on you to keep me in line.
My opening address has three parts. I'll get right to it.
What are we up against today in terms of violent ideological extremism? It is, of course, a complex reality with many different strands. Like my colleague who spoke earlier, I would like to draw your attention to the right-wing extremism ecosystem.
Our data show that this ecosystem is a form of cohabitation made up of convergences and divergences between the various leanings.
The first important point in part one of my presentations pertains to the extreme right, typified by the attacks in Quebec and in London, Ontario. There is also anti-government sentiment. There was also the attack in Moncton in 2014. And misogyny is what led to the two attacks in Toronto a few years back. There are also some relatively new movements, including conspiracy theories, which of course are nothing new. Added to this is religious fundamentalism, and sometimes even a branch of "alternative science".
A glance at the number of arrests since 2020 that have been linked to public safety and extremism—not to mention national security—shows a strong presence of these far right anti-government and conspiracy theory movements. The latter underpins all the others, to a certain extent. And of course—we can talk about it again later—this brings us to the recent events in Ottawa which, in the midst of the pandemic, found fertile ground, scapegoats and supporters.
I'd like to highlight two important points at this stage.
First of all, a distinction is often made between the radical right, which would like to be involved in institutions, and the violent extremist right. It's an important distinction, to some extent, but they are nevertheless interconnected, and are often objective allies. We'll return to this later, because it's a very important point. I would also like to talk about the growing number of violent protests. In the western world, there has been a 250% increase in such demonstrations over the past five years. This shows that there is no clear-cut distinction between extremist agendas and occasional violent flare-ups. Many ordinary citizens were at the attack on the Capitol. The second important point in part one is the widespread rise in violent ideological extremism in the western world. What is involved is a rise in right-wing extremism, whether in the power structure or in the streets, an increase in hate crimes, which increased by 25% in Canada in 2020 over the previous year, along with violent demonstrations and attacks. There was a 250% increase in extreme right terrorism incidents between 1970 and 2019. This means increased social polarization.
Why is this is a growing phenomenon? There are many reasons. I will mention three that affect you more directly. First, there was the loss of confidence in institutions, that is to say you the politicians, we the scientists, and also the media. The data demonstrate a very clear connection between this loss of confidence and the rise in extremism. Secondly, digital social networks and alternative media are like particle accelarators for extremism. We'll likely be returning to this issue. Thirdly, there are the global and local contexts of the day. There is the pandemic, the economic crisis—there was the 2008 financial crisis and now, inflation—along with various other related conflicts, like the migrant crisis at Roxham Road in Quebec, and the environmental crisis. In short, it's an outburst of anger that you have to know how to listen to.
The third and final part of this opening address is about the repercussions on Canada's democracy. I believe that there are two major pitfalls to be avoided. The first is underestimating the threat and the risk to democracy it represents. What we are dealing with is an enemy within. In matters of national security, the tendency is to be less mistrustful of what appears to be close to us. How long did it take for us to really show concern, and for the enforcement agencies to address the problem, even though it had been underscored by many researchers as early as the 2010s? We originally thought that Canada was immune. It's true that Canada probably has a more consensual political culture than other countries, starting with our American neighbour. I nevertheless believe that we can agree, and that there is consensus on the fact that Canada is not immune. The second major pitfall is overestimating the strength and capacity of resilience.