This is the fourth chapter in a four-part series investigating apparent institutional biases within the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the RCMP. You can also read parts one, two and three.
At around 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 29, at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec on the outskirts of Quebec City, the mosque’s parking lot was filling up for evening prayers. The centre is housed in a modern glass and steel office building, located on the corner of a busy thoroughfare.
At 7:50, a commotion was heard outside one of the entrances to the prayer room. There, two distant cousins, Mamadou Tanou Barry and Ibrahima Barry, were the first to be shot by a gunman, who then walked inside the room and continued his killing spree. It was all over in a few minutes - with six men dead and 19 wounded.
The suspect arrested was 27-year-old Université Laval student Alexandre Bissonnette, who is alleged to have been influenced by far-right and perhaps alt-right ideas.
In the minds of some, this deadly attack raised a question: while CSIS and the RCMP have spent years and vast sums spying on (and often harassing) Muslims, environmentalists, Indigenous and social justice activists, have they been overlooking a far more dangerous threat from the extreme right? After all, prior to the attack, Bissonnette was not even on the police’s radar.
“Just a simple counting of the number of active and visible and vocal right wing extremist groups in Canada show they are clearly more in-your-face and more visible than anything we see from Islamic extremists,” says Barbara Perry, a social scientist at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and an expert on Canada's extreme right.
“Again, just looking quantitatively at the number of incidents that we’ve been able to identify even in the last decade or decade and a half, the numbers (of far-right extremism acts) still outweigh the numbers of incidents associated with Islamic-inspired extremism.”
Yet, as revealed in our three previous stories examining biases within CSIS and the RCMP in respect to their focus on threats to Canada, overwhelming evidence reveals that Islamic-inspired terrorism is their main concern. In fact, CSIS’s annual and threat assessment reports have made scant mention – and even downplayed – threats from the far-right. Richard Fadden, a former CSIS director (from 2009 to 2013) and a national security advisor under prime ministers Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau, told the National Post last winter that while the police and intelligence have been monitoring the extreme right, they didn’t believe an attack like the one in Quebec City was likely.
“I don’t think we saw a great deal of evidence…that suggested there was going to be a significant problem in terms of violence,” he said. Notwithstanding the "appalling atrocity" in Quebec, Fadden told the Post he felt the main terrorist threat to Canada remained extremists inspired by the ideologies of al-Qaida and ISIS (Fadden declined to speak to National Observer).
In fact, according to internal documents obtained by the Globe and Mail, after two Canadian soldiers were killed by Islamic-inspired shooters in 2014, the RCMP sidelined more than 300 investigations, mostly into organized-crime, as it redirected more than $100 million to its national security squads. Since 9/11, about $300 million of RCMP funds once earmarked for other programs were diverted to the force's "integrated national-security squads" (INSETs), according to statistics released to the Globe.
Statistics overwhelmingly show far-right is more dangerous
So just how worried should Canadians be about the far-right?
When Perry examined the data, she found that between 1980 and 2015 there were more than 120 aggressive incidents involving the extreme right in Canada. These include Justin Bourque killing three RCMP officers and injuring two others in Moncton, N.B. in 2014 (Bourque had embraced far-right survivalist politics). And an anti-Semitic Edmonton resident, Norman Raddatz, who was harassing local Jewish residents, shot and killed a police officer, and wounded another one, during a raid on his home in 2015.
Yet, during this same time period, Perry found only seven incidents involving Islamists — including that of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau fatally shooting a Canadian soldier, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, on Parliament Hill in 2014, before attacking Parliament itself, where he was killed.
Studies in the U.S. have found a similar phenomenon – that violence from the far-right is eclipsing that from Islamic-inspired attackers. From 2008 to 2016, one study showed that attacks from the far-right occurred twice more frequently than from Islamic sources (although, another study noted that going back to 9/11, killings by Islamist terrorists in the U.S. were higher than those committed by extreme rightists).
Moreover, more than 100 far-right groups have been identified in Canada and are flourishing, says Perry, especially over the past year. “You look at chapters of Sons and Soldiers of Odin, for example, PEGIDA and Blood & Honour chapters popping up all over the place – it’s a visible and palpable threat,” she says. “So they have crawled out of the woodwork and are much more evident.”
Perry also says, until recently, the RCMP and CSIS were not paying attention. “That’s very much the case,” she remarks. “When you look at just the public documents, the annual (CSIS) threat assessments, there might be one or two throwaway lines, that there are many threats including from the far right. And then that’s all they say. The last (CSIS public) report (released three weeks after the Québec City massacre) didn’t make any mention whatsoever of the far right.”
Meanwhile, anti-Islamic sentiment is translating into more hate crimes against Canadian Muslims. In 2014, police forces across the country recorded 99 religiously motivated hate crimes against Muslims — up from 45 in 2012. Stats Canada showed a 253 per-cent-increase in hate crime against Muslims between 2012 and 2015.
Daniel Gallant, a former neo-Nazi who lives in Kamloops, B.C., believes the RCMP and CSIS are ignoring the extreme right. Instead, he says they focus on all other threats except far-right extremism. “So Indigenous activists are labelled extremists when neo-Nazis are not, even if they have engaged in actual acts of terrorism,” says Gallant. “Then there is the focus upon Islamic extremists as well. The very fact that (CSIS and RCMP) are not focusing on right-wing extremism is problematic…And I believe it’s due to the fact that everything in context of right-wing ideology is so normalized, it’s entrenched in our law.”
In response to this charge, CSIS spokesperson Tahera Mufti, says: "CSIS is mandated to investigate activities suspected of constituting threats to the security of Canada, and to report on these to the Government of Canada. Any group or individual who sees violence as a legitimate form of political expression, including those who support right-wing extremism, is of concern to us.”
And Annie Delisle, a spokesperson for the RCMP, notes that "the RCMP Federal Policing investigates terrorism related criminal activity in Canada regardless of the underlying religious, ideological or political motivation and intent of the act. Such investigations are guided by the definition of terrorism as outlined in Section 83 of the Criminal Code. The RCMP acts on all terrorist threats and does not focus on any single religious, ideological or political based motivation or intent. The RCMP responds to all national security threats to Canada in an un-biased manner."
Yet neither CSIS or the RCMP would tell National Observer exactly how much money they spend on investigating different kinds of threats — whether Islamic-inspired or from the far-right. What is known is Ottawa is spending vast and growing sums on counter-terrorism. In 2015, the government announced an increase of $439 million for counter-terrorism investigations, of which $293 million was to go to the RCMP, CSIS and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) over five years. While taxpayers spent $300 million a year on the nation's two main intelligence agencies, CSIS and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), before 9/11, the cost for spying is now more than $1 billion. CSIS received $537 million last year alone — up from $180 million in 1999.
Internally, CSIS and RCMP accused of being racist and Islamophobic
Yet evidence suggests that too many RCMP and CSIS senior personnel embrace views that are close to the far-right. Lawrence Hay, who is Indigenous and a former First Nation band chief, was an RCMP officer for 19 years up until 1998 – including eight as an intelligence officer. He once called the RCMP a “racist” organization. Hay says he saw instances of racism “in spades” towards First Nations people during his time at the RCMP.
Insensitivity towards Arabs and Muslims was reflected in a meeting that occurred in 2008 between CSIS's then director, Jim Judd, and a U.S. State Department official in Ottawa. They were meeting to discuss terror threats, including "threats by violent Islamist groups in Canada.” According to minutes of this meeting that Wikileaks released in 2010, Judd derided judgments made by Canadian courts that prevented CSIS from using information that “may have been” derived from torture. He bemoaned how a video of Omar Khadr would “likely show three (Canadian) adults interrogating a kid who breaks down in tears.” And finally, Judd said CSIS had responded to recent, non-specific intelligence on possible terror operations by "vigorously harassing" known Hezbollah members in Canada. According to Judd, CSIS' current assessment is that no attack is "in the offing" in Canada, according to the minutes. (Judd did not respond to efforts to reach him.)
More recently, this past July, five Toronto-based CSIS employees sued the agency for $35 million over workplace discrimination and harassment. Three are Muslim, one is gay and whose partner is Muslim, and a fifth is black and female. They portray a workplace where overt acts of racism, Islamophobia, homophobia and sexism are commonplace. For instance, one of the employees received an email from a fellow worker saying, “Careful your Muslim in-laws don’t behead you in your sleep for being homo.”
In the claim, it relates that Bahira, (not her real name) has worked at CSIS for 15 years as an intelligence officer and is described as a “well-educated, multilingual Muslim woman of Arab and African descent. Her colour, ethnic origin and religion have at times been precious assets to the Service, but at all time, they have made her the target of harassment, discrimination and reprisal from members of the same organization.”
Bahira began working at CSIS in Ottawa just after 9/11 and says she immediately recognized the atmosphere was hostile to Muslims. When she started wearing a hijab to work in 2004, it caused “an uproar and a stirring of suspicion so intense that it exists today.” One manager expressed concern “that by virtue of being a practicing Muslim, Bahira may be in the same vicinity as subjects of service investigations.” She was told to inform CSIS of any activity she carried out in the Muslim community, including attending mosques.
Cemal, who has worked at CSIS for 22 years, most recently as an analyst, is a Muslim of Turkish descent. He overheard a supervisor say she was rejecting job candidates because of their Muslim names. Cemal, on one occasion, was prevented from seeing some intelligence on a high-profile case because he said his supervisors didn’t trust him. He was also denied promotion numerous times and believes it’s because of his religion and nationality. One of his superiors once referred to Cemal as a “fucking a-hole”. Cemal overheard a manager tell a Hindu employee of Indian descent: “If you don’t like things in Canada, you should return to your country.”
Emran, who is of Moroccan descent and Muslim, began working at CSIS in 2005 as an analyst and speaks five languages. He says he has been targeted by “powerful individuals within CSIS” and been harassed due to his religion and ethnic origin. “It is clear to Emran that because of his Arab Muslim background, he is both a necessary tool to CSIS and the work it seeks to do, and at the same time he is not trusted by many powerful individuals in the organization,” the suit notes. One intelligence officer allegedly said in Emran’s presence: “All Muslims are blood thirsty murderers” and “All Muslims are terrorists.”
All five of these CSIS employees are currently on sick leave. Their allegations have not been proven in court.
CSIS's lack of diversity confirmed by two audits
Nevertheless, CSIS’s lack of internal diversity was confirmed by two Canadian Human Rights Commission’s employment equity audits, carried out in 2011 and 2014. Both found no visible minorities or Indigenous people among senior managers, while only 17 per cent were women, which had dropped by 13 per cent since 2009 (although 48 per cent of the agency’s employees are female). Just 14.4 per cent of its workplace was visible minority. Moreover, the audits suggested visible minorities faced barriers to advancement and did not receive the requisite training to advance to management levels.
In response to the employees' lawsuit, CSIS spokesperson Mufti noted: "With respect to the matter before the courts, I am unable to comment on specifics. What I want to make clear, however, is CSIS does not tolerate harassment, discrimination or bullying under any circumstances. As our Director stated, CSIS employees are proud to be entrusted to carry out the very important work that we do. The Service prides itself on being a top employer and creating a healthy and respectful workplace of inclusion, where diversity is representative of our strength."
The current director of CSIS, David Vigneault, also has said: "(CSIS) takes any allegation of inappropriate behaviour very seriously. I believe strongly in leading an organization where every employee promotes a work environment which is free from harassment and conducive to the equitable treatment of all individuals. CSIS employees are proud to be entrusted to carry out the very important work that we do."
Yet, as Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, observes: “If these are allegations coming from people within the force regarding concerns around racial profiling and discrimination, you are left to wonder about the impact on their ability to conduct their intelligence work in an unbiased and free manner with the people it’s supposed to be looking at.”