Homegrown terrorism and radicalization in Canada: overblown, or a serious threat?


CANADIANS are engaged and following issues of radicalization and homegrown terrorism in this country closely, but a new survey from the Angus Reid Institute (ARI) finds a nation, its regions and even households are divided on how best to address these problems.

The survey, conducted by ARI in partnership with others, sought to examine this complex and emerging subject from several perspectives, including perception of the threat, methods for prevention, confidence in Canadian security services, views on punishment, and attitudes towards the Muslim community and its leaders in this country.

A specific question asked respondents whether the attack and fatal shooting of military personnel on and around Parliament Hill in Ottawa by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, was either a terrorist attack or an act of someone with a mental illness.

Canadians were almost evenly divided in their views on this issue. Nearly two-in-five (36%) said the shooting was a terrorist attack. About as many (38%) said it was an act of mental illness. The rest (25%) said they weren’t sure.

A look at how respondents answered by region shows differences in opinion. In BC and Atlantic Canada, respondents said the shootings were a result of mental illness, almost two-to-one over terrorism. In Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, slightly more respondents say it was terrorism. Ontario and Quebec respondents are more evenly divided on this question.


Other Key Findings:


* Engagement: 

The Angus Reid Institute survey shows most Canadians are indeed engaged on the issue of homegrown terrorism. Three-quarters (74%) say they are watching the issue either “very closely” (24%) or “closely” (50%).

Geography may influence familiarity to an extent: the October 22 shooting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa appears to have galvanized Ontario respondents most, with one-third (31%) saying they have been following the issue “very closely”.

* Radicalized individuals among us?:

Overall, one-third of Canadians (35%) say they feel there are already radicalized individuals living in their communities. This sentiment is highest in Ontario (41%) and Alberta (38%) where reports of at least one young man in Calgary becoming radicalized and committing violent acts overseas have dominated the headlines. Slightly fewer than three-in-ten (28%) say no radicalized individuals are in their communities, while most (37%) say they aren’t sure.

Among those who say “no” or “aren’t sure”, a further one-third (32%) say it is likely that people are in the process of becoming radicalized in their communities. Thus, nearly seven-in-ten of Canadians surveyed (67%) say radicalized people are either living in their communities today or are in the process of becoming radicalized in their communities.

Those who say radicalized individuals are not living amongst them are nearly twice as likely to live in rural areas, and are more likely to be young. Those who say “no” are also nearly twice as likely to say the threat is overblown compared to those who believe radicalized individuals are already living among them.

* Homegrown terrorism: serious threat, or overblown?

Striking differences are noticeable on the question of whether Canadians feel the threat of homegrown terrorism is real and serious or whether it has been overblown in the media and by politicians. Much of this depends on whether Canadians believe there are already, or are likely to be, radicalized individuals living in their communities.

Nationally, nearly two-thirds (62%) say homegrown terrorism is a serious threat, compared to just over one-third (38%) who say it is overblown. Those in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec are most likely to express this sentiment (70%, 68% and 69% respectively). Respondents in BC and Atlantic Canada are most split on this question.

There are notable contrasts, however, among those who say there are radicalized people living in their communities versus those who say there are not.

Among those who say radicalized individuals are already in their communities, three-quarters (74%) also say homegrown terrorism is a serious threat, and one-quarter (26%) said it’s been overblown. Among those who say no radicalized people are living in their midst, the perception of a serious threat falls significantly to 53 per cent, while the perception that homegrown terrorism is overblown by politicians and the media nearly doubles, to 47 per cent.

* Prison and passports:

On the issue of how to deal with suspected homegrown terrorists who have either expressed or acted on a desire to leave the country, ARI found the majority in this country would prefer to ground them. Three-in-five said such individuals should have their passports taken away from them and be watched by police. This sentiment was strongest in Quebec (71%) and weakest in BC (47%).

Conversely, two-in-five Canadians said suspected homegrown terrorists should be able to leave the country if they wanted, even if that meant they might be committing acts of terror somewhere else. Support for this view is highest in BC (53%) and lowest in Quebec (29%).

Confidence in security services:

Confidence in institutions such as the RCMP, CSIS and local police to stop radicalized Canadians from carrying out acts of violence is split, with half of respondents (50%) saying they are either “very confident” (5%) or “confident” (45%). Just over forty per cent say they are “not very confident” (37%) or “not confident at all” (6%).

Notably, these results represent a 10-point increase in confidence since late October, when ARI asked Canadians the same question. At the time, two-in-five (40%) said they were either “confident” (36%) or “very confident” (4%)

Respondents were also gauged on their support or opposition towards possible measures aimed at addressing the radicalization process and preventing violent acts.

One hypothetical measure commanded the most support: a federally-funded program aimed at specifically training mental health workers to identify signs of radicalization. This garnered the backing of 87 per cent of respondents nationally, with no significant difference in regional or demographic response.

* Other measures that garnered majority support included:

– Blocking access to Internet sites that promote ISIS or any other terrorist organization (83%)

– Deportation (82%)

– Indefinite imprisonment (68%)

There was one hypothetical measure on which support was much more tepid. This was the suggestion of a federally funded grant program for mosques in Canada that wished to spend money on preventing radicalization. Half of respondents (49%) said they supported such a measure. Half (51%) said they opposed it.