The horrific massacre at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City in St. Foy, Quebec was an act of terror. The suspect, Alexandre Bissonnette, has been linked to hateful ideologies, including anti-immigrant and anti-feminist comments. However, in Canada, when we speak of the threat posed by terrorism, we are inevitably speaking of young black and brown Muslim men.
When disaster strikes and the suspect is depicted as being either Arab or Muslim, the reflexive response is to assume that this was an act of terror driven by radical forms of Islam. But when a white person engages in a terror-plot or act of mass-violence, there is often official reluctance to identify it for what it is: terrorism. In my own research, I have found that the threat of terrorist violence by white supremacists receives only passing mention in official policy documents and does not receive the same level of media coverage as acts of terrorism associated with radical forms of Islam.
Alexandre Bissonnette is escorted to a van after appearing in court for the deadly shooting at a mosque, Monday, Jan. 30, 2017 in Quebec City. (Photo: Jacques Boissinot/CP)
The stated focus of post-9/11 Canadian counter-terrorism policy has been the threat posed by "Sunni Islamic-inspired" violent extremism. In particular, the government, law-enforcement and intelligence agencies have been concerned with domestic or "homegrown" radicalization, whereby Canadians are converted to extreme social, political and religious beliefs that justify and compel violence.
While other terror threats are acknowledged, the radicalization of young Muslim males is continually identified as the central security threat facing Canadian interests. This concern has resulted in Muslim Canadians being subjected to excessive surveillance and preventative arrests.
Canada has a long history with right-wing extremist groups and mass-violence perpetrated by white, Christian Canadians. Furthermore, since 9/11, white supremacist terrorists have conducted the majority of fatal domestic attacks in the U.S.
By not giving sufficient credence to the threat of terrorist violence posed by these groups, the Canadian government risks neglecting one of our primary domestic security concerns.
In the cases where the government has identified the threat posed by white supremacist and extreme right-wing ideological violence, it has largely been in relation to so-called "lone-wolf" attackers who act without direct operational links to established terror groups. This belies the complexity of the threat and ignores long-standing connections between Canadian right-wing extremists and those abroad, and the growing strength of white supremacist and right-wing extremist groups in the U.S. and Europe.
Canada has also focused on countering violent extremism by attempting to counter radical narratives. To this end, the RCMP and other law-enforcement agencies have expended considerable resources in developing programs and initiatives designed to not only counter the immediate threat posed by terrorism, but also to build engagement with 'diverse ethnic, cultural and religious communities' and resilience and resistance to violent ideologies.
The RCMP recently released the Terrorism and Violent Extremism Guide, which identifies extremist right-wing ideology as one of the three main types of extremism. However, these initiatives remain focused on "Islamic-inspired" threats and Canadian Muslims.
Following the Quebec attack, U.S. President Donald Trump offered Prime Minister Trudeau his full support, including military and intelligence resources. White House press secretary Sean Spicer would also use the attack to further justify Trump's anti-immigrant policies, describing them as a progressive approach to national security. However, it is unclear how an attack on Muslims by a person professing extreme right-wing views could be used to justify policies designed to restrict the citizenship and movement of Muslims.
Donald Trump signs an executive order imposing a four-month travel ban on refugees entering the United States and a 90-day hold on travellers from Syria, Iran and five other Muslim-majority countries, at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S., Jan. 27, 2017. (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)
Furthermore, The Trump administration would days later announce that the U.S. "Counter Violent Extremism" (CVE) policy, intended to counter violent ideologies, would now solely be focused on Islamic-inspired extremism. This move serves to effectively ignore a primary source of domestic terror violence, while potentially further alienating American Muslims.
The apparent unwillingness of the U.S. to give even the appearance of combating white supremacists and right-wing extremism has the potential to embolden these groups and to further exacerbate the dangers they pose, including potential risks to Canada. As Canadians, we must acknowledge our long history with white supremacy and right-wing extremism and the continued prevalence of these groups. Programs and policies that primarily focus on Muslim Canadians as being the most "at-risk" for radicalization and extremist violence will do nothing to prevent further violence against Muslim Canadians.
Additional resources must be allocated to countering the threat posed by ideologically driven violence associated with white supremacy and right-wing extremism, including security focused counter-terrorism initiatives and efforts to monitor and counter the spread of these hateful ideologies.
Given the growing influence of white supremacist and extreme right-wing groups in the U.S. and Europe, and the changing focus of U.S. CVE policy, Canada must be resolved to identify and counter these threats.
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