Could Canadian authorities have prevented the Quebec ‘terror’ attack?
Watch above: Soldier Patrice Vincent was killed on Canadian soil, in an apparent act of homegrown terrorism. Mike Le Couteur has the story.
The Quebec man accused of running down two soldiers, killing one of them, had already had his passport revoked for trying to go to Syria.
Martin Rouleau, who also went by the name Ahmad Rouleau on social media, died Monday after being shot by police.
In the hours that followed, the Prime Minister’s Office and the RCMP confirmed they suspected the 25-year-old of becoming radicalized and that he was being monitored. At a press conference on Tuesday, RCMP admitted they had arrested Rouleau when he tried to leave for Syria. They didn’t have enough evidence to charge him with anything or detain him, but they did seize his passport.
Police then worked with Rouleau, his family and the imam at the mosque he had been attending. The last contact authorities had with him was on Oct. 9.
WATCH: RCMP Supt. Martine Fontaine explains why RCMP did not have enough evidence to charge Martin Rouleau
The federal government prohibits Canadian citizens from going abroad or attempting to go abroad to take part in terror-related activities, and individuals suspected of having ties to terrorism may have their passports revoked (as was the case with Rouleau).
But, revoking a passport is only an act of putting a limitation on such an individual — an “extremist traveller” as Public Safety Canada said in its 2014 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada.
It was in that report that Public Safety said it was aware of at least 80 extremist travellers who had returned to Canada after engaging in terror-related activities. The RCMP said on Oct. 8 it had 63 active national security investigations involving 90 people.
“In a democracy, security agencies have the authority to monitor individuals that they have good reason to suspect. They have certain tools at their disposal to constrain that individual’s activities, like revoking a passport,” said Thomas Juneau, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public Affairs.
Juneau said the evidence needed to limit travel abroad is not always sufficient to incriminate an individual and put them behind bars.
“We have taken certain steps, especially since 9-11, to give our security agencies some to tools to restrict partially the freedom of some individuals, like removing their passports, but we’re not willing in a democracy to go much further than that and we probably shouldn’t.
“If solely on the basis of Facebook postings we start locking people up… that’s not an option that I think anyone in Canada is willing to consider,” Juneau said.
Security expert and former Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) agent Michel Juneau-Katsuya agrees.
“It’s not illegal to change faith. It’s not illegal to change opinion. And, it’s not even illegal to say stupid things on Facebook,” said Juneau-Katsuya (no relation to Thomas Juneau).
And unless an individual is committing an actual crime, the hands of authorities are tied.
“We could have had a surveillance car parked right behind the guy, it would not have prevented him [from] doing what he [did],” Juneau-Katsuya said.
Juneau-Katsuya said the number of cases of Canadians becoming radicalized is growing all the time and intelligence and security officials only have so many resources to work with.
Revoking a passport presents a “catch-22,” he added, because while you’re preventing someone with radical ideologies from going abroad, you’re also keeping those with extremist intent inside the country.
“Unfortunately, there [are] young people out there who have been radicalized and are ready to go into action,” Juneau-Katsuya said. Taking away their passports, as in Rouleau’s case, may push them to carry out an extremist act domestically.
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said last Thursday the threat of extremism has grown more complex since the law governing CSIS was put into place 30 years ago. He and announced plans to table a bill this week to amend it.
Blaney didn’t go into details about what those amendments would be, but said “the tools will ultimately allow CSIS to conduct investigations into potential terrorists when they travel abroad.”
With files from Vassy Kapelos and The Canadian Press
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