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A door from the Air India jumbo jet floats off the Irish coast after a bomb exploded causing the plane to crash in this 1985 file photo. (ASSOCIATED PRESS/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A door from the Air India jumbo jet floats off the Irish coast after a bomb exploded causing the plane to crash in this 1985 file photo. (ASSOCIATED PRESS/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ottawa mulls public database on terrorism to help profile extremists’ behaviour Add to ...

The federal government wants to create a publicly accessible database of Canadian terrorism incidents.

The Web-based tool would be aimed at helping policy-makers and researchers identify trends and patterns in extremist behaviour.

No such comprehensive Canadian database exists, says a recent federal outline soliciting bids from interested parties for a contract to host and begin building the electronic repository.

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“Every researcher must start from scratch in accumulating the same materials, and some researchers have a proprietary approach to the information they collect and do not share it with others,” says the outline.

The government has set aside about $130,000 over two years to get the project started. It would be up and running by March 15, 2015.

It is part of an overall federal effort to bolster understanding of terrorism after the commission of inquiry into the 1985 Air India bombing noted there is limited Canadian research to draw upon.

International research tools, such as the Global Terrorism Database, have an incomplete listing of Canadian incidents and do not necessarily flag them in an easy-to-find manner, the outline notes.

The Canadian database would cover incidents from at the latest 2005 onward, incorporating source materials such as court documents and media coverage, in both English and French.

It would include a description of the terrorist incident as well as time, location, ideological motivation, weapons used and whether the event was a hoax.

Free access to the database would ensure that graduate students and researchers at non-governmental organizations would not only be able to use the information, “but also be encouraged to contribute data based on their research,” the outline adds.

The government says the database would also be used by Public Safety Canada and its federal partners – not to track individuals, but as evidence for policy and program development.

There have been Canadian data collection efforts in the past, but most have ceased, a Public Safety official told members of the Cross Cultural Roundtable on Security – a federal sounding board and liaison group that includes members of ethnic communities.

The new database could initially pull together information from previous initiatives by Public Safety, Carleton University in Ottawa, the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., and the University of Baltimore, suggests a March presentation to the roundtable, obtained under the Access to Information Act.

“These data are presented in different platforms, employ different definitions and concepts and have different degrees of public access.”

Among the potential research Public Safety sees emerging from the database:

  • Patterns in the “ramping up” or decline of certain types of activities by terrorist groups, networks or movements over time;
  • Are these crimes more likely to occur on anniversaries, on certain days of the week or in particular months in the year?
  • Examination of geographic trends and transnational patterns affecting Canada;
  • How terrorism and national security issues are portrayed in the media.

One question in assembling the database is whether to include only incidents that meet the Criminal Code definition of terrorism or to broaden the scope to embrace other kinds of offences such as hate crimes.

It is also unclear as to whether the collection will feature all incidents with a Canadian connection – such as those perpetrated by or against Canadians overseas – or merely events that happened on Canadian soil.

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