Canadian Intelligence Security Service (CSIS) Director Michael Coulombe appeared before the Senate on national security and defense on Monday to discuss the current security environment and the evolving threat that terrorism poses to Canada.
Coulombe stated, “We have never before faced a threat of this scope, scale, and complexity as that posed by extremists inspired by the violent ideologies of Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda.” CSIS continues to monitor threats at home and abroad, particularly individuals with a link to Canada.
It is estimated that 180 individuals from Canada are currently engaging in terrorism related activities overseas. Around 100 Canadians are believed to be in Syria or Iraq. CSIS also reported that 60 of these foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) have returned to Canada. He also pointed out that 90 would be jihadists were captured trying to leave the country to go fight for IS in Iraq and Syria. Columbe noted that CSIS is now spending nearly 55% of its budget on counter terrorism alone.
Coulombe was asked by the senate committee why 60 individuals who are believed to have participated in terrorist related activities had not been charged. He noted that the information about terror related activities was not always sufficient to bring criminal charges.
Coulombe claimed that these numbers fluctuate and do not paint the entire picture of the scale of the threat to Canada. For example, individuals who have never traveled, but are engaged in threat related activities at home, are not included.
Only 45 people have been charged for terrorism since 2001 according to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. Coulombe noted that collecting evidence and arresting individuals who have been overseas is challenging.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has come under fire from the senate committee for failing to successfully utilize section 83 of the Legal Code, which makes it illegal for Canadians to leave or attempt to leave the country and fight for the IS.
CSIS has utilized the C-51 Bill in half a dozen cases to monitor and initiate “threat reduction” measures absent a federal court warrant, and in some cases warned suspects that they were being monitored. The threat reduction clause in C-51 allows Canadian authorities to conduct the proper safeguards both in Canada and outside the country to help maintain national security.
While the C-51 antiterrorism law remains controversial in Canada, the tools granted to CSIS have played a role in gathering intelligence and breaking up potential jihadist plots. The lack of success in bringing forward criminal charges against IS supporters suggests that more coordination between Canadian intelligence and law enforcement agencies, one of the issues C-51 was intended to promote, may be necessary.
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