OTTAWA—Extremists inspired by groups such as Daesh and Al Qaeda remain the top terrorism threat to Canada, but a new report from the federal government warns of growing far-right movements online that could translate into real-world violence.
Public Safety Canada said Thursday that the current threat of a terrorist attack on Canadian soil remains at “medium,” unchanged since the 2014 shootings on Parliament Hill.
The department, which oversees both CSIS and the RCMP, suggested Daesh or Al Qaeda-inspired individuals still represent the most significant threat—although the report noted that extremism “can stem from a range of ideologies.”
“All forms of ideology have the potential to inspire individuals or groups to commit acts of violence in their name,” the report says.
“In Canada, a small number of individuals continue to be radicalized and mobilized to violence, and may attempt to further their causes through violent means.”
So-called “extremist travellers” — Canadians who travel to support extremist causes abroad — have dominated the recent domestic terrorism discussions in Canada. The federal government now estimates there are 190 people with a “nexus” to Canada abroad — roughly half of them in Turkey, Syria or Iraq.
A further 60 have returned to Canada, although only a “relatively small number” of those are suspected of having engaged in actual combat.
But the report lists right-wing extremism as a “growing concern” in Canada. And while extreme-right groups in Canada are predominantly active online, security agencies warn the potential for violence is there.
“The evolution from online hate to serious acts of politically-motivated violence with the intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of the public in regard to its sense of security, could be considered a terrorism offence,” the report reads.
“As there has been a rise in hate-related incidents reported to police in Canada, there is always the potential for extreme right-wing motivated violence to occur in Canada.”
The report points to the mass shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City last January, where six men were killed and others wounded, as an example of “attacks perpetrated by those who espouse extreme right-wing views.” Alexandre Bissonnette, who friends say held far-right political views, has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder in relation to that shooting.
Public Safety officials also pointed to a trend of “low-sophistication tactics” used by extremism-inspired individuals on Western targets — particularly in Europe. Unlike more complex plots, such as the use of bombs or automatic weapons, an attack with a knife or a vehicle is more difficult for intelligence and law enforcement agencies to uncover and prevent.