The recent terrorist attack in Canada’s capital may finally spur the type of counter-terrorism cooperation between Russia and Canada that has been limited in recent months by US-Russian relations hitting all-time lows.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers stand guard on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. A gunman attacked Canada's parliament on Oct. 22 with a gunfire erupting near a room where Prime Minister Stephen Harper was speaking, and a soldier was fatally shot at a nearby war memorial, jolting the Canadian capital. Photo: Reuters
The Canadian presence on the world stage has always been somewhat of a paradox. The world’s second largest country is a member of the G7, one of the greatest contributors to UN programs, a NATO founding member and a stalwart supporter for the Alliance’s operations overseas. Yet, at the same time, Ottawa’s policies have often been less declaratory and thus less palpable than those of its Western partners. In short, Canada has often been an invisible global player, more content to be a “hard worker” than a “frontrunner.”
That all changed this month.
In early October, Canada joined the U.S.-led airstrikes against the Islamic State allocating its fighter jets to be used for a period of six months. Several weeks later, Canadian authorities raised the threat level in the country from “low” to “medium” after an alleged radical Islamist assassinated a man in a parking lot. Than the now-notorious incident in the country’s capital hit the news and shook the Canadian public.
What came as a nightmare to a relatively peaceful and quiet city in a country whose biggest security challenge so far has been the Quebec separatist movement may seem like a marginal event. Indeed, in the context of the lack of specific information about the incident and the suspects, it’s too early to draw serious conclusions assessing any real threat level. But the way the response is being handled tells us that Canadians have little experience in tackling this kind of threat at home and need assistance from its immediate neighbor and partner – the U.S.
Although substantially incorrect, the parallels between the Boston Marathon bombings back in April 2013 are tempting. The theme of “home-grown extremism” in Western countries is not new, but the tragic incident in Canada shows it is there in another North American country as well – alive and kicking. Lone wolves – if that was the case in Ottawa – are believed to be the hardest to tackle as they have no formal ties with any terrorist network and therefore are hard to trace down. Obviously, when the shock-and-panic frenzy eventually subsides, Canadian authorities will critically reassess this issue domestically and beef up counter-terrorism measures, thereby cooperating even closer with their American counterparts.
If, indeed, Canadians came across something Americans are now used to experience – namely, a Muslim convert residing within Canada sympathizing with the radical agenda of the Islamic State and thus opposing Canadian actions against it – there’s one aspect that shouldn’t be missed. In today’s “global village” no one is secure from threats like this – this is the common-sense argument repeated like a mantra every time a tragedy like this happens in places not accustomed to this type of violence. However, very few (if any) practice what they preach: Authorities tend to deal quickly with immediate consequences of an accident and then continue to tacitly believe that localizing threats in their immediate vicinity is the best option while natural borders – the oceans in this case – would do their job and prevent the country from challenges simmering in the Middle East or elsewhere.
The tragedy may be an incentive to take Russian-Canadian counter-terrorism cooperation to a substantially new level. Once active in the middle 2000s, this cooperation has been complicated by a number of mutually antagonistic moves, including a spy scandal in 2013. It eventually became hostage to the ''sanctions war'' over Ukraine and the overall negative context of relations between the West and Russia in recent years.
The Canadian case, however, once again shows that extremism (especially that inspired by fractured religious dogmas) has no limit as to geographical location, and thus, requires much greater interoperability between global players. On the surface, the understanding among the interested players is there, but as counter-terrorism and intelligence data exchange remain the areas with the greatest level of mistrust, countries are pretty much on their own to deal with this problem. Until nations realize the need for greater cooperation against the growing Islamic terrorist threat, the chickens will come home to roost – in times and places where no one would expect them.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.