Canada attacks: Sign of things to come?

Canada attacks: Sign of things to come?

Canadians, who like to call their country a ‘peaceable kingdom’ were shaken like never before on Wednesday when a gunman rampaged through the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, after shooting dead a soldier at the nearby War Memorial.

The gunman was subsequently killed and identified. However, whether the violence was the outcome of psychological problems, social maladjustment or political motivation has not been established yet.  His attack struck at the very heart of Canada’s democracy, prompting Prime Minister Steven Harper to label it a terrorist strike.  Just two days earlier, a man was said to have driven his car deliberately into two soldiers outside Montreal, killing one and seriously injuring the other.

 The assailant’s social media postings show he was inspired by Islamic State (IS) propaganda.  Canada must tread carefully. It must avoid the temptation to label all anti-state violence as IS-inspired. It must probe the incidents objectively before drawing conclusions. At the same time, it cannot ignore the growing influence of IS propaganda among immigrant populations living in Europe and North America. The Harper government recently announced that 30 Canadians had left the country to join the IS. 

A humanitarian big power abroad, Canada successfully built a multicultural and tolerant society at home.  It emphasised human security over military security. However, this approach changed over the past decade, with successive Conservative governments supporting the US-led war on terrorism. This saw Canada sending troops to Afghanistan and Iraq and now to fight the IS. This is likely to have put it on the radar of jihadi groups.  

Canada is no stranger to terrorism. In the 1970s, radical groups espousing the Quebecois nationalist cause indulged in abductions of officials.  In 1985, Sikh militants operating from Canada bombed an Air India flight, killing 329 people.  It is well known that for the past several decades, Canada has allowed terror outfits like the Babbar Khalsa and the LTTE as well as scores of other extremist and jihadi organisations to raise funds, engage in propaganda etc, on its soil.

 Canadian officials dismissed such activities as legitimate political work, refusing to see that such work was facilitating and fuelling violence abroad. So long as the guns were trained elsewhere, Canada was unconcerned. That is likely to change with the attacks in Montreal and Ottawa. Canada is expected to rethink its ostrich-like approach to terrorist front organisations operating from its soil.  

However, the new-found zeal to take on terrorists and extremist ideologies at home should not push it to target immigrants or people of certain religious and ethnic identities.