WATCH: CSIS quietly raised the terror threat level just days before the attack in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. But, top intelligence officials bluntly admit they can only do so much. Vassy Kapelos explains.
OTTAWA – Just days before a deadly attack on Quebec soldiers, Canada’s domestic terrorism threat level was quietly elevated from unlikely to “could occur” for the first time in four years, Global News has learned.
Last Friday, the terrorism threat level in Canada rose from low to medium for the first time since Aug. 13, 2010, according to an internal document obtained by Global News.
The document was distributed within Canada’s intelligence community and is attributed to the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC), a team of security intelligence organizations from across Canada.
“Intelligence indicates that an individual or group within Canada or abroad has the intent and capability to commit an act of terrorism. ITAC assesses that a violent act of terrorism could occur,” the document says.
Prior to Friday’s change, the threat was low – meaning individuals had either the intent or capability to commit an act of terrorism, but not both, and a violent act of terrorism was considered unlikely.
Unlike the United States, Canada does not use a public terrorism threat level system. The U.S. makes a change in threat level public.
A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said the system is an “internal tool” for security agencies to inform first responders of the threat level in Canada.
“The decision to raise the level is linked to an increase in general chatter from radical Islamist organizations like (ISIS), Al Qaida, Al Shabaab and others who pose a clear threat to Canadians,” spokesman Jean-Christophe de Le Rue said in an email.
“This level means that intelligence has indicated that an individual or group within Canada or abroad has the intent and capability to commit an act of terrorism, and that the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre assesses that a violent act of terrorism could occur. This increase is not the result of a specific threat.”
The internal report also warns that Canadian extremists could turn on their own countries if they are prevented from travelling abroad – which appears to be what happened with suspect Martin Rouleau, whose passport was seized by the RCMP.
Rouleau, 25, is the now-deceased suspect in a hit-and-run that killed one soldier and injured another in Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu on Monday.
On Tuesday, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said Rouleau had his passport revoked and was one of 90 people being monitored in an ongoing national security investigation. A senior government source confirmed that Rouleau had attempted to travel to Syria.
Former CSIS agent Michel Juneau-Katsuya said constant surveillance on suspected terrorists is not the issue.
“Even if you put people on surveillance, when are they going to act? You would never know,” he said. “We could have had a surveillance car parked right behind the guy, it would not have prevented him.”
Juneau-Katsuya said the government needs to focus on preventing radicalization. “When the process has started, it’s very difficult to de-program these same individuals.”
The document says the main terrorist threat in Canada is likely posed by “self-directed extremists” inspired by the Islamic State (ISIS) or Al Qaida.
Extremists act “in small cells or as lone actors to carry out simple, small-scale attacks,” it says.
Those returning to Canada may pose multiple threats including: terrorist attack plotting; radicalizing others; and participating in fundraising or other support activities.
“Western-based extremists, including in Canada, who are kept from travelling abroad to join fighting groups are at risk of turning their violent intentions against their home countries,” the document says.
More than 130 Canadians are currently abroad in various countries in support of extremist activities, including more than 30 in Iraq and Syria.
Another 80 Canadians have returned home from conflict zones, it says.
The passports of “several” Canadians who planned to travel to conflict zones to enlist as foreign fighters have been revoked, it says.
However, the document notes that a violent act can still occur with no warning.
“ITAC cautions that the information may be incomplete and, regardless of the threat level applied, a violent act of terrorism may occur with little or no warning.”
The document says there is no information to indicate “an attack is imminent.”