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Quebec City shooting puts renewed focus on Canada’s far-right

Studies in the phenomenon of right-wing extremism will figure into federal plans for a national office of counter-radicalization


 
Alexandre Bissonnette is escorted to a van after appearing in court for the deadly shooting at a mosque, Monday, January 30, 2017 in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/CP)

Alexandre Bissonnette is escorted to a van after appearing in court for the deadly shooting at a mosque, Monday, January 30, 2017 in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/CP)

OTTAWA – Jihadi-inspired extremism has dominated discussion of terrorism in Canada in recent years.

But the shootings at a Quebec City Islamic centre may well represent the flip-side of that coin: the hate-killing of Muslims.

It is too early to know what prompted the crimes and, so far, accused shooter Alexandre Bissonnette has been charged with murder and attempted murder, but not terrorism.

Still, Bissonnette’s social-media history suggests he was a fan of far-right, anti-immigrant French politician Marine Le Pen.

Canada’s spy agency and academic researchers have been quietly probing the phenomenon of right-wing extremism, and the concerns will figure into federal plans for a national office of counter-radicalization.

In a September 2014 briefing to federal officials, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service warned of the threat posed by terrorist groups al-Qaida, Hezbollah and the more radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

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But under the heading Domestic Extremism, the spy service also underscored the recent development “of a Canadian online anti-Islam movement, similar to ones in Europe.”

CSIS characterized it as an “ongoing risk, particularly as its proponents advocate violence.”

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says the planned office of counter-radicalization will serve as a centre of excellence and help key players understand what draws the vulnerable down a dark path. The idea is to intervene with the right people at the right time to head off tragedies before they happen, Goodale said this week after the Quebec shooting.

Jihadi-inspired violence has drawn most of the attention in recent years, noted Lorne Dawson, a University of Waterloo sociology professor and co-director of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society.

“To be honest, we have to admit that the bulk of the problem is a jihadist radicalization and that’s where the focus is,” he said. “But everyone acknowledges it’s not the only form of radicalization.”

Dawson pointed out that Norway, Sweden and Germany have long had programs aimed at steering young people away from neo-Nazism — initiatives that served as templates for programs designed to prevent jihadist radicalization.

“They were all up and operating years and years before Europe really became concerned with an Islamist radicalization issue,” he said.

“It’s a lesser issue than jihadism, but it’s not something that’s being ignored.”

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Canada has many of the same basic ingredients that drive right-wing terrorism in both the United States and Europe, says a recent policy brief published by Dawson’s research network.

A large-scale attack by ISIL might spur a call for the kinds of attempted purges seen in Europe or targeted killings intended to scare communities by demonstrating they are no longer safe within Canada, said the brief by Richard Parent of Simon Fraser University’s school of criminology and researcher James Ellis.

“While predicting the future can be challenging, Canadian security agencies should reconsider their public stances on the potential for violence from right-wing terrorists,” the brief added. “Given data on attacks in the United States and Canada on terrorism and extremism, right-wing organizations and lone wolves are capable of violence.”

Phil Gurski, a former CSIS analyst who specializes in counter-radicalization efforts, suggested it’s too early to tell how concerned Canada should be.

Finite resources mean right-wing terrorism and single-issue violence — such as eco-terrorism — get short-shrift at a time when groups like ISIL dominate headlines, Gurski said.

“I do know that it doesn’t get the attention it should,” he said.

“Is this the next big wave? Well, I know the Europeans are worried about it. I’m not sure we need to worry about it as much here in Canada.”


 

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