Threat of violent extremism rising in Canada, MPs told

The threat of violent extremism has increased in Canada during the pandemic — fueled by misinformation and resulting in threats to politicians and officials — top security and police officials told MPs on Thursday.

But while police and intelligence agencies are taking steps to track down extremists and prevent them from carrying out attacks, the government must first and foremost work proactively to counter extremism, she added.

Cherie Henderson, deputy director, requirements for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), testifying before the Public Security and National Security Commission, described the rise of ideologically motivated violent extremism (IMVE) over the past two years.

“Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, IMVE activity has been fueled by an increase in extreme anti-authority and anti-government rhetoric, often rooted in the weaponization of conspiracy theories,” Henderson told the committee.

“CSIS sees a marked increase in violent threats against elected officials and officials.”

Henderson said CSIS has moved more resources to monitor IMVE.

Video posted to social media shows protesters yelling at NDP leader Jagmeet Singh on Tuesday and following him to a vehicle after a campaign event in Peterborough, Ontario. (Freedom through Unity – Peterborough/Kawartha/Facebook)

The hearing came just days after an ugly altercation in Peterborough, Ontario, where protesters shouted profanity at NDP leader Jagmeet Singh after a provincial election campaign.

That incident seemed to be on the minds of some committee members during their hearings on IMVE.

“This has been a very bleak time for the NDP caucus,” said New Democratic MP Alistair MacGregor.

“Our leader Jagmeet Singh had to wade through a group of people who called him a traitor. They threw expletives at him and said they hoped he would die,” he said.

“This is the exact same kind of behavior that we saw during the occupation of Ottawa and it’s time for us to wake up to the fact that this kind of behavior has real, physical manifestations and real threats.”

Liberal MP Pam Damoff said she and other MPs have received threats, but this does not necessarily lead to criminal charges.

Former security adviser Richard Fadden told MPs that dialogue is key to countering ideologically motivated violent extremism. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

“It feels like it’s only a matter of time before this rhetoric and this kind of aggressive anger turn into something more violent,” she said.

RCMP Deputy Commander Michael Duheme said the Mounties have also seen an increase in IMVE incidents, most involving people “not clearly affiliated with any group and motivated by highly individualized ideologies.”

Duheme said the RCMP has identified gaps in the way it has dealt with IMVE and has developed a strategy to address them over the next three years and work with local law enforcement and other groups.

By “improving information sharing and building our own intelligence capabilities,” especially online, the RCMP “will be in a better position to identify individuals and groups who pose a threat before they are motivated to commit violence,” he said. .

Leslie Soper, director general of national security policy at the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, described IMVE as “a serious threat” to Canada.

While some people on the right side of the political spectrum are attracted to IMVE, such extremists come from a wide range of political perspectives, she said.

“It could be in line with what we might traditionally call right-wing extremism. It could be motivated by other factors, anti-mandatory. It could be motivated by other societal factors,” Soper said.

Earlier, Conservative MP Dane Lloyd challenged Soper and CSIS officials to tell him what they were doing to investigate 30 churches burned down in 2021. Both replied that these were police matters.

Richard Fadden, former national security adviser and director of CSIS, said IMVE has been around for a while, but is now more intense, organized and coordinated.

Fadden said that if Canada wants to counter IMVE, it needs to get to the root of the discontent of those who are attracted to it, and their sense that their views are not being heard.

Fadden called for more dialogue with those attracted to IMVE, saying countering it must go beyond the federal government to counties, municipalities and schools.

However, he also acknowledged that it can be difficult to talk about some things openly these days.

“I really think political correctness has reached the point today where it’s almost impossible to talk about a whole range of issues and if you’re frustrated with government and society to begin with, it’s not helpful,” he said. †

RCMP officers raise their hands to protect Justin Trudeau as protesters scream and throw gravel at a campaign halt during last year’s federal election in London, Ontario, on September 6, 2021. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

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