TORONTO — Police and intelligence agencies have been monitoring the extreme right wing but did not believe an attack like the Quebec City mosque killings was likely, Canada’s former National Security Advisor said Tuesday.
“I don’t think we saw a great deal of evidence, facts that suggested they were going to be a significant problem in terms of violence,” Richard Fadden told the National Post following a speech at the Royal Canadian Military Institute.
The mosque attack on Sunday night that left six worshippers dead has raised questions about whether Canada’s national security agencies have paid close enough attention to the threat posed by the extremist far right.
Little has been disclosed about what motivated the gunman to shoot congregants in the back as they prayed at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec, which had been targeted in July when a pig’s head was left at the front door.
Chris Mikula/Canwest News ServiceRichard Fadden in Ottawa
But some have pointed to signs of nationalist, anti-immigrant sentiment in the social media activities of Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, the former Université Laval student charged with six counts of murder and five of attempted murder.
Police said the suspect was unknown to them prior to his arrest on Sunday night, when he called 911 to turn himself in. It remains unclear how he was able to orchestrate the attack without ever coming to the attention of authorities.
“I’ve found that there tends to be less serious attention paid to the right wing,” said Daniel Gallant, a former white supremacist who left the hate movement and is currently a social worker and law student in British Columbia.
Now focused on preventing youths from joining extremist groups, Gallant said the reluctance to apply the tools of terrorism to the far right is a problem. “With this inconsistent view of what terrorism is, we end up with all these gaps.”
He said a simple look at Canada’s history showed the far right has been violent. He also believes it is on the rise, partly as a result of the populist political debate taking place in the United States and Europe. “I think that we need to pay attention,” he said.
Gavin Young/Calgary HeraldChristianne Boudreau listens as Daniel Gallant speaks at the U of C launch of Extreme Dialogue, an online video project designed to prevent violent extremi,ross Canada. Gallant, who was a violent neo-nazi was one of the profiles in the project.
Hate groups were once a key concern of CSIS, which infiltrated the racist Heritage Front, causing its collapse in the 1990s. Since then, followers of al-Qaida-type ideology have become Canada’s main terrorism focus.
The most recent CSIS annual report, covering the 2013-2014 fiscal year, said right-wing extremists were “fragmented and primarily pose a threat to public order and not to national security.”
“The majority of individuals involved in the milieu in Canada hold strong racist and anti-immigration views, but do not overly propose serious acts of violence,” according to a 2012 CSIS Intelligence Assessment.
A study commissioned by Public Safety Canada last year documented 49 “supremacist-motivated” incidents between 2001 and 2015, mostly in Alberta and Ontario. “Most incidents appear to be isolated and spontaneous assaults targeting ethnic/religious minorities,” it said.
Right-wing extremist groups ‘prevalent’ across Canada, study warns
The unexpected transformation of Aaron Pearlston: He is now Douglas Pearson, white supremacist
A hater among us: This Oshawa, Ont., drywaller is the leader of the White Nationalist Front
Fadden, who was the CSIS director from 2009-2013 and served as security adviser to prime ministers Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau, said the far right had not been neglected by counterterrorism officials.
“I think over the last decade or so the police and CSIS have been keeping an eye on right-wing extremism in Canada. I think the general view has been that there is some. It’s relatively localized. And honestly I don’t think these entities thought that they were particularly prone to violence.”
He described the extreme right as “little groups” that “talk big” but did not seem willing to act. “So I think the hope of the community based on this kind of experience is that the right wingers would be relatively less inclined to violence than has been proven to be the case here.”
He said the Quebec City mosque killings appeared to be a lone wolf attack, which he called “the hardest category of terrorist attack to deal with” and “almost impossible to prevent.”
Notwithstanding the “appalling atrocity” in Quebec City, Fadden said the main terrorist threat to Canada remained extremists inspired by the ideologies of al-Qaida and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
• Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @StewartBellNP