It seems that no one is ready to push the panic button on terrorism in Canada. So I will.
Left unchecked, Islamic State, IS, has the potential to expand its reign of terror and cause massive and debilitating effects on the Canadian economy, let alone our democratic way of life. Canadians, including Canadian businesses, are smack in the line of terrorist fire because we appear to have a disproportionate number of homegrown terrorists compared to some other Western countries.
More than 130 people from Canada fled to the Middle East for extremist purposes, some to join IS. Another 80 travelled abroad for extremist purposes and have returned to Canada. The Department of Homeland Security says that less than 100 Americans have left the U.S. to join terrorist groups overseas, mostly in Syria. Given that Canada has 1/10th of the population of the U.S., we incubate proportionately ten times more homegrown terrorists than the U.S. Compared to Australia, Canada had more than triple the number of sympathizers leave our country to support terrorist groups overseas.
Terrorist groups like IS say they intend to make us bleed, physically and financially. The financial hit is the key part of their plan to harm businesses, cripple industries, drain economies and bankrupt governments in the West in order to create chaos so they can forcibly eliminate the rule of law and our values – to establish their own.
To harm significant numbers of businesses and cripple industries, terrorists target critical infrastructure and the financial systems.
Once Canadian businesses understand that, wherever they operate, they are the targets of terrorist groups like IS, they can – and will – provide a vital contribution to both the national and international effort against terrorism.
Canadian businesses not only have the deepest and most immediate connections to homegrown terrorists as employers, bankers and other service providers, but they also have well-established ties to trade partners in other countries facing similar threats which can be leveraged for counter-terrorist measures.
Terrorists, including homegrown ones in Canada, cannot survive without access to financial services. More than any other sector, financial services businesses in Canada need to protect the financial system by preventing the financing of terrorism within Canada and externally by preventing the movement of funds to overseas terrorist hotspots. Thus far, they have not done a good enough job in Canada at stopping terrorist financing, particularly businesses that remit funds for hefty fees to countries that are known terrorist-financing safe havens, and the handful of banks that service those remittances overseas. That will have to change because there is too much at stake with an apocalyptic group like IS.
This week, Australia is introducing legislation to identify and prohibit financial transactions overseas to homegrown terrorists who join IS and groups like them and Canada should do the same.
But we also need to close loopholes in the law that exempt modern Internet-based payment methods from our counter-terrorism laws because they allow value and funds to be sent from Canada to terrorist organizations without detection, reporting or supervision.
I'm pushing the terrorism panic button because I know that when our greater proportionate number of homegrown terrorists come home to Canada from fighting alongside IS, they will be more radicalized, more dialed in to their global network and more committed to cause us significant harm.
Christine Duhaime is a lawyer and a financial crime and anti-money laundering specialist with the law firm of Duhaime Law with a specialized practice in counter-terrorism and financial crime law. She practises in Toronto and Vancouver and is establishing the Financial Crime Centre in Toronto to start the public-private partnership dialogue to mitigate financial crime in Canada.