November 17, 2015 - 9:30 AM
OTTAWA - The level of jihadist militancy simmering in France and other parts of western Europe simply doesn't exist in Canada, making the sort of attack that devastated Paris less likely, security experts say.
In France and Belgium there are tens of thousands of people who, while not terrorists, sympathize with the ideology espoused by radical elements like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, said Phil Gurski, a former Canadian Security Intelligence Service analyst who specializes in counter-radicalization efforts.
"We don't have that here — not to the best of our knowledge," Gurski said in an interview.
"I think we have to acknowledge that there are some significant differences."
Last year Michael Zehaf Bibeau shot Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, an honour guard at the National War Memorial, before rushing into Parliament's Centre Block. Zehaf Bibeau was quickly gunned down.
Two days earlier, Martin Couture-Rouleau had fatally rammed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent with a car in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. After a chase, police shot and killed the knife-wielding assailant.
While Canada has been hit by jihadi-inspired lone-wolf attacks, there has been nothing like the co-ordinated assaults on multiple targets in Paris that claimed 129 lives and injured hundreds of others, said Jez Littlewood of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa.
"That's not something we've seen Canadian terrorists actually being able to carry out."
Canada is pursuing a significantly smaller proportion of counter-terrorism investigations than some European nations, and a relatively low number of Canadians — between 45 and 60 — have headed to Iraq and Syria as foreign fighters, experts say.
At the same time, Canada has generally been perceived as less of a target of interest than some allies for jihadi-motivated extremists.
"Things are better here. I can't imagine a scenario where Canada gets like that," Gurski said. "I really can't. And I'm not sure I know why, but whatever it is we're doing here, we're doing it right for the most part."
Littlewood points to a more civil political discourse in Canada that has avoided "openly hostile" messages to immigrants and refugees of the kind spouted by the far right in France.
"No western democracy is perfect in this realm — I don't think any of us would say that," Littlewood said.
But he quickly adds that Canada "seems to be faring better" than France in terms of ensuring a sense of identity and belonging for newcomers.
Gurski spent almost 13 years at CSIS before moving to Public Safety Canada and now works as a private threat and risk consultant. He has been openly critical of the previous Conservative government's harsh tone toward the Muslim community — something he believes strained delicate bonds of trust.
He applauds as a welcome shift the Liberal government's promise to create an office of community outreach and counter-radicalization.
"This is your early intervention," he said. "You can work with communities, you can work with local law enforcement."
In addition, it is much less intimidating and expensive than a CSIS or police investigation.
Security experts say that despite such efforts no one can promise all violent plots will be averted.
"You're going to have attacks periodically, you're going to have arrests periodically," Gurski said. "This is what life is in 2015 and unfortunately it's going to be this way for the next couple decades."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015