OTTAWA — The risk of Canadians becoming radicalized into extremism is a legitimate and significant concern, the country’s spy agency said Friday.
In its 2013-14 public report, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said terrorism remains the most persistent threat to national security.
The agency also said espionage against Canadian economic, political and military interests is a worry.
Michel Coulombe, director of CSIS, has often stressed the terror threat in speeches and appearances before parliamentary committees. He didn’t soft-pedal it in his portion of the report.
“There are violent people and violent groups that want to kill Canadians,” Coulombe wrote. “It’s a sobering observation to make and there is no euphemistic way of making it.”
The report worried that Canadians who become radicalized and travel abroad to fight alongside extremists could become serious threats if they return home battle-hardened with dangerous skills.
It noted that a number of Canadians have been killed in fighting overseas, a sign that radicalization has a lure for some.
“CSIS has found that radicalized individuals come from varied social backgrounds and age groups, with a wide range of educational credentials and often appear to be fully integrated into society,” the report said.
“This makes the detection of radicalized individuals particularly challenging.”
The report said al-Qaida has been weakened by a potent international anti-terrorism campaign, but remains a serious threat and CSIS still sees support for the militant group in Canada.
Spies, too, pose a danger.
“Canada remains a target for traditional espionage activities, many of which continue to focus on our advanced technologies and government proprietary and classified information, as well as certain Canadian resource and advanced technology sector,” the report concluded.
Other threats include cyberattacks, illegal migration and clandestine manipulation of diaspora communities by foreign governments.
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney used the report as a chance to promote Bill C-51, the Harper government’s latest anti-terrorism legislation, which has been attacked for being overly broad and intrusive.
“The CSIS public report details the consistent threat environment that CSIS confronts while protecting Canadians and Canadian interests against many threats, including espionage, foreign interference, and cyber security,” Blaney said in a statement.
That’s the reason for C-51, he said — “to ensure that our police forces have the tools they need to protect Canadians against the ever-evolving threat of terrorism.”
In cyberspace, there are growing threats, said the report. It cited the June 2014 attack on the National Research Council of Canada, which forced it to shut down its IT network and rebuild its information security system.
Attackers don’t even need to set foot in Canada to wreak mischief.
“These hostile actors include both state and non-state actors — such as foreign intelligence agencies, terrorists or simply lone actors.”