The so-called Islamic State has issued threats to Canadians and specifically urged followers to attack on Canada Day. Should we be worried?
First we must consider whether the Islamic State can actually pull anything off. How likely is it that anything is actually planned? There are two main types of terrorist attacks. The first is large scale and complex, the second is smaller and usually perpetrated by so-called lone wolves.
Large scale terrorist attacks are challenging to organize. A 9/11 style attack requires significant funding and organization. This makes it much easier to intercept. The more stages in planning and the more actors involved means that the security apparatuses have more time and more opportunities to catch threats in early stages.
Canada has stopped multiple larger terrorist attacks in our past, most notably foiling the “Toronto 18”. There is currently no public evidence to suggest that a large scale attack is probable on Canada Day weekend. Canadian security forces are notoriously good at stopping attacks. Part of the way they do this is by having an intimate relationship with Islamic communities within Canada. Canadian Muslims have been integral and proactive in stopping multiple terrorist attacks. To read more on the role of Islamic communities in Canada check out my previous article Canada and the Problem of Islamic Terrorism. While not impossible, a large scale attack is rare, the most easy to catch, and unlikely to take place.
What about a smaller scale attack? Small attacks are difficult to stop and difficult to predict. They are less destructive but still fear and harm. A radicalized individual can simply drive a truck into a crowd, begin stabbing at random, or fire bullets into a marketplace. This style of attack has been especially prevalent in Europe. They require no real planning or paper trail and therefore pose unique challenges to prevent.
If the planning of these attacks can not be intercepted, then we must turn our attention to the individuals behind them. A “lone wolf” is a radicalized individual who pledges allegiance to a terrorist organization and carries out an attack on their behalf, often without the group’s official guidance or logistical support. A man in Belgium that becomes radicalized can drive a truck into a crowd and pledge allegiance to the Islamic State without ever interacting with the actual group. Some of these lone wolves are ideologically driven conservatives that adamantly believe in their religious interpretations. Some others suffer from mental disorders and become radicalized due to their neurosis. Regardless of the underlying reasoning, finding and unraveling this form of radicalization is essential. Luckily Canada is also very good at this.
Canada has very low levels of radicalization. We vet refugees thoroughly, we are quick to support struggling Muslims, and we engage with Imams to build bridges with Mosques. The Canadian government and the Canadian Islamic community often treat radicalization as a mental health problem. When they notice individuals becoming isolated, or particularly worrisome, they intervene and provide community support. Canada has escaped the violence we see in the US, or in Europe, and much credit is due to our proactive and thorough mental health approach.
In Canada large scale attacks are improbable and low scale risks have been micromanaged, nurtured, and consistently deflated. This does not mean that we are completely safe, a large scale attack is always theoretically possible, and a lone wolf can seemingly come from nowhere. We are never entirely without risk of a terrorist attack on Canadian soil. This brings us to the second reason to not be scared of an attack on Canada Day weekend. If we show fear, if we avoid crowds, if we stay in and distance ourselves in order to hide from the potential danger, they win.
Terrorists win not by toppling governments but by striking fear and destabilizing communities. While there is always some risk of terrorism, and it is always possible for both the Canadian intelligence agencies and the Islamic communities to overlook a potential threat, we must never let these terrorists scare us into changing our way of life.
If the Islamic State says that Canadians are at risk this weekend then we must take this threat seriously and implement security measures. (Which the Canadian government has successfully done.) But just as importantly, we must not flinch. We must dance in the streets, enjoy our concerts, savor our heritage, and spend time with our friends and families. We must show to them, with honour and courage, that we will not tolerate their hate. In Canada when terrorists threaten our way of life, we brush it off, eat a poutine, and continue to build our multicultural and progressive society. When they scare us, when they spread fear and hate, they win. When we stand strong, when we continue our project, when we show courage and compassion, we win.
While unlikely, an attack is always possible, but never let this reality prevent you from living the life you have every right to live. This Canada Day weekend walk outside and enjoy the sun. We are Canadians, and we do not cave to fear.
By Daniel Govedar (July 2017, Edited June 2018)