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Politics Liberals, Conservatives spar over threat posed by return of foreign fighters to Canada

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says the federal government has contained the return of foreign fighters to Canada, stating the number has stabilized at fewer than 60 people despite the decline of the Islamic State in the Middle East.

There have been strong concerns in recent years about the threat of terrorism posed by supporters of the Islamic State (also known as Daesh) in Canada, including those who were returning to the country after fighting alongside other jihadis.

In a report on the terrorism threat to Canada, Public Safety Canada said Tuesday that measures such as travel interdictions and the threat of prosecution in Canada have dissuaded a number of Canadian "extremist travellers” from trying to come back to the country.

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“From the Canadian perspective, there has been no surge, no significant change in the numbers,” Mr. Goodale told reporters on Tuesday. “That is an encouraging indicator in terms of the safety and security of Canadians, but we take nothing for granted.”

Since 2013, the report said, 12 individuals have been charged in Canada with terrorism travel offences in relation to their attempts to join extremist groups in foreign war zones. Of these, three have been have been convicted, two have been subjected to terrorism peace bonds, four are facing outstanding warrants and two are awaiting trial. Charges were withdrawn in the last case.

The report added that there are about 190 Canadians involved in “extremist” activities around the world, including in places such as Syria and Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and North and East Africa.

Examples of Canadians involved in

violent incidents abroad

1

BULGARIA

CHINA

ALGERIA

2

BANGLADESH

5

SOMALIA

0

1,000

3

Indian Ocean

KM

CANADA

6

4

U.S.

Atlantic

Ocean

0

500

MEXICO

KM

July 2012

A Canadian was allegedly involved in a bus bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria.

1

January 2013

Two Canadians involved in the siege of a gas facility in In Amenas, Algeria.

2

April 2013

One Canadian killed attacking the Somali Supreme Court in Mogadishu, Somalia.

3

May 2016

One Canadian charged in a thwarted New York City bomb plot.

4

July 2016

One Canadian allegedly helped attack a restaurant in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

5

June 2017

One Canadian charged in attack on a police officer at a Flint, Mich., airport.

6

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN;

OSM CONTRIBUTORS; HIU; PUBLIC SAFETY CANADA

Examples of Canadians involved in

violent incidents abroad

1

BULGARIA

CHINA

ALGERIA

2

BANGLADESH

INDIA

5

SOMALIA

3

0

1,000

Indian Ocean

KM

CANADA

6

4

U.S.

Atlantic

Ocean

0

500

MEXICO

KM

July 2012

A Canadian was allegedly involved in a bus bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria.

January 2013

Two Canadians involved in the siege of a gas facility in In Amenas, Algeria.

1

2

April 2013

One Canadian killed attacking the Somali Supreme Court in Mogadishu, Somalia.

May 2016

One Canadian charged in a thwarted New York City bomb plot.

3

4

July 2016

One Canadian allegedly helped attack a restaurant in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

June 2017

One Canadian charged in attack on a police officer at a Flint, Mich., airport.

5

6

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OSM CONTRIBUTORS;

HIU; PUBLIC SAFETY CANADA

Examples of Canadians involved in violent incidents abroad

CANADA

RUSSIA

6

4

U.S.

1

Atlantic

Ocean

0

500

BULGARIA

MEXICO

KM

CHINA

2

ALGERIA

BANGLADESH

INDIA

5

SOMALIA

3

0

1,000

Indian Ocean

KM

July 2012

A Canadian was allegedly involved in a bus bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria.

January 2013

Two Canadians involved in the siege of a gas facility in In Amenas, Algeria.

April 2013

One Canadian killed attacking the Somali Supreme Court in Mogadishu, Somalia.

1

2

3

May 2016

One Canadian charged in a thwarted New York City bomb plot.

July 2016

One Canadian allegedly helped attack a restaurant in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

June 2017

One Canadian

charged in attack on

a police officer at a Flint, Mich., airport.

4

5

6

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OSM CONTRIBUTORS; HIU; PUBLIC SAFETY CANADA

The Conservatives said the government is lacking transparency on the file, arguing there are still unanswered questions over efforts to monitor the movements of the returnees.

“We don’t know what is happening with these people. We don’t know if more of them have returned or what we have done with those who are here. Some of them have admitted to having committed crimes and they have not faced any repercussions,” Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus said.

In its threat assessment, the federal government said the main terrorist menace in Canada continues to come from “individuals or groups who are inspired by violent Sunni Islamist ideology and terrorist groups, such as Daesh or al-Qaeda.”

The report added that the Islamic State is faced with “decreasing support and size,” which sometime leads the group to falsely claim responsibility for attacks, including the gun attack in Toronto’s Danforth community in July.

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The second-biggest terrorist threat in Canada comes from right-wing extremists who conduct most of their activities online, according to the report. The report points to the Toronto van attack in April as the type of violence associated with right-wing extremists, including supporters of the “incel movement” (a misogynistic movement of the “involuntary celibate”).

The government’s terrorist threat level has remained stable at medium in Canada since 2014, when a gunman killed a member of the Canadian Armed Forces at the war memorial in Ottawa and then stormed Parliament’s Centre Block.

The 2018 report added “Sikh extremism” as a new component of the terrorist threat in Canada, without providing an explanation for this addition. However, the assessment comes in the same year as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an official visit to India during which questions were raised over Canada’s handling of supporters of an independent homeland for Sikhs, called Khalistan.

“The 1985 Air India bombing by Khalistani terrorists, which killed 331 people, remains the deadliest terrorist plot ever launched in Canada. While attacks around the world in support of this movement have declined, support for the extreme ideologies of such groups remains,” the report said.

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