It can’t happen here! Can it ?

Nov 19, 2015

Canadians should take warning from the events in Paris on 13 November. Too often, Canadians dismiss terrorist threats, warnings and close calls with the usual attitude that “Canada is not important enough to attract terrorism,” or that “it can’t happen here.” That kind of thinking is dangerous. It can happen here, and it has happened here.

The FLQ Crisis” of October 1970, when the Québec separatist group, Le Front de Liberation du Québec conducted a campaign of bombings, and kidnapped British trade commissioner James Cross and Québec labour minister Pierre Laporte. Not about to be bullied, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau decisively invoked the War Measures Act suspending civil liberties, and offering a $150,000 reward for information that would lead to the arrest of the kidnappers. Laporte was killed but Cross was released after a tip was sent to police. Some of the kidnappers were exiled, others tried and convicted for kidnapping and ­murder.

The Squamish Five, also known as the Vancouver Five, were “urban guerrillas” active in Canada during the early 1980s. As disenchanted activists, Ann Hansen, Brent Taylor, Juliet Caroline Belmas, Doug Stewart and Gerry Hannah adopted the name “Direct Action” and followed the philosophies of the Anarchist movement, believing that by conducting “propaganda by the deed”, they could motivate people into popular action. They vandalized the headquarters of a mining company, and the offices of the British Columbia Ministry of Environment. On 30 May 1982, they detonated a bomb at BC Hydro’s Dunsmuir substation, causing $5 million in damages. In October, they stole a pick-up truck and loaded it with 550 kg of dynamite and drove to Toronto, where they detonated their explosives at Litton Industries on 14 October 1982, causing an estimated $3.87 million in damage. They returned British Columbia and, on 22 November 1982, fire bombed three Red Hot Video outlets in the Vancouver area. 

An Armenian terrorist group attempted to assassinate Turkish trade attaché Mr. Kani Güngör, who was attacked in the parking lot of his home on 8 April 1982. No arrests were ever made.

A few months later, on 27 August 1982, Colonel Atilla Altikat, Turkey’s military attaché to Canada was assassinated in Ottawa as he drove to work. The Armenian militant group, Justice Commandos Against Armenian Genocide, claimed responsibility for this attack.

A few years later, on 12 March 1985, three extremists of the Armenian Revolutionary Army attacked the Turkish embassy in Ottawa, shot and killed 31 year-old Claude Brunelle, a University of Ottawa student working as the embassy’s security guard. Gunmen blasted open the embassy’s front door and assembled some 12 hostages, including the Turkish Ambassador’s wife, his teen-age daughter, and embassy staff. Ambassador Coşkun Kırca escaped by jumping from the second floor window. The gunmen told Ottawa police they intended “to make Turkey pay for the Armenian genocide” of 1915.

The bombing of Air India Flight 182 on 23 June 1985, killed 329 people, 268 of whom were Canadians. This was the largest mass murder in Canadian history. The cause of the crash was under investigation for years, but airline officials suspected Sikh extremists of planting a bomb on the aircraft. On the same day, an explosion in the baggage handling area of Japan’s Narita Airport was also attributed to Sikh terrorists, and may have been related. 

Four Sikh extremists wounded visiting Punjab Chief Minister Surjit Singh Barnala in a botched assassination attempt in Gold River, BC, on 25 May 1986. 

Members of the Jamaat ul-Fuqra were arrested on 3 October 1991, for attempting to bomb a Hindu temple, a movie theatre, and a Toronto East Indian restaurant. 

Letter bombs were sent to the Alberta genetics laboratory on 11 July 1995, and the Mackenzie Institute in Toronto 13 July 1995 (reportedly by radical animal rights groups).

In its 11 October 2002 edition, The Economist wrote that an Egyptian suspected of being an al-Qaeda terrorist, was discovered hiding in a sea container in the Italian port of Gioia Tauro. Had he not been discovered, his voyage would have taken him to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Members of the terrorist group dubbed “The Toronto 18” intended to use three rental U-Haul panel vans filled with fertilizer bombs to damage or destroy the Toronto Stock Exchange, Canada’s spy agency, and a southern Ontario military base, to affect the Canadian economy, kill and injure Torontonians and cause chaos in downtown Toronto. Their objective was to force Canada to cease its military operations in Afghanistan. They were arrested in June 2006.

In August, 2010, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police discovered and prevented a terrorist bomb-making plot by three men, one with possible links to the conflict in Afghanistan. Investigators found schematics, videos, drawings, books and manuals for making explosives. “A vast quantity of terrorist literature and instructional material was seized, showing that the suspects had the intent to construct an explosive device for terrorist purposes,’’ they said.

In April 2013, Canadian police stopped a passenger-train attack in Toronto that was believed to be associated with al-Qaeda.
There have also been single-perpetrator events in Canada, such as:

Canadian Army Corporal Denis Lortie, unhappy with policies of the Québec and federal governments, entered Québec’s Assemblée nationale on 8 May 1984 and shot three government employees and wounded 13. A Canadian Forces supply technician, he intended to kill Premier René Lévesque and other members of the governing Parti Québécois.

In 1997, a Québec man drove up the steps of Ottawa’s Parliament Buildings.

In 1989, another man hijacked a bus and drove it onto the grounds of the Canadian Parliament and discharged a firearm, without injuring anyone.

A 25-year old man struck and killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent on 20 October 2013 with his car. Two days later, another man shot Corporal Nathan Cirillo, aged 24, in the back as he stood sentry at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, then rushed to the Centre Block of Parliament where he was shot to death by Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers. Both young shooters claimed to have been influenced by ISIS.

These latter examples are open to questions of whether they actually constitute acts of terrorism, perpetrated by so-called “lone wolf” assassins and would-be assassins, or by disturbed people suffering from mental illness. 

Terrorism is not a single, unrelated political event but one step in a continuum of political activities that can be undertaken, at the center of the spectrum of political activities, by those with extreme motivations. In truth, no one feels safe from the capricious violence of terrorism. It plagues all communities, afflicts all people, and all governments. No government is immune to it, and virtually every government has taken some precautions against it.

We need to ask ourselves, are we taking enough precautions? 

Tim Dunne is FrontLine’s East Coast correspondent.

© FrontLine Security 2015