I'd like to call this meeting to order. Welcome to meeting number 24 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
I'd like to start by acknowledging that we are meeting on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin peoples.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, as you all know, pursuant to the House order of November 25, 2021. Members are attending in person in the room and remotely using the Zoom application. You know that you have the choice of the floor, English or French translation that you can control.
Today, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motions adopted by the committee on Thursday, February 17, 2022, the committee is resuming its study of the rise of ideologically motivated violent extremism in Canada.
With us today, from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, we have Marie-Hélène Chayer, executive director, integrated terrorism assessment centre, and Cherie Henderson, assistant director, requirements. From the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, we have Robert Burley, senior director, Canada centre for community engagement and prevention of violence, and Lesley Soper, director general, national security policy. We also have, from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Deputy Commissioner Michael Duheme.
There will be five-minute opening statements by each of our guests or combinations of our guests.
I would now invite Ms. Marie-Hélène Chayer to make an opening statement of up to five minutes.
Whenever you're ready, the floor is yours.
Hello, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
As mentioned, my name is Marie-Hélène Chayer.
I am the executive director of the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre.
The centre's mandate is to analyze terrorism-related intelligence collected by various organizations and to share our assessments, notably with our national security partners.
One of our main priorities is to analyze the threats posed by ideologically motivated violent extremism, or IMVE, which, as you know, is complex and fluid and has been evolving over the years.
As you have heard in previous testimony during your studies, many of the ideologically motivated extremists who produce and disseminate violent and threatening rhetoric do not intend to carry out physical attacks themselves; however, they may sway and have swayed other individuals to mobilize and cause acts of serious violence.
These individuals, who may be susceptible to IMVE narratives because of their personal grievances or extremist beliefs, may not belong to known groups or associations. They can galvanize around a number of issues, including public health measures, authority or gender-related concerns. As such, IMVE attacks conducted by lone actors are quite difficult to predict. They do not necessarily require a lot of planning, coordination or capabilities, and they can be directed at various targets, depending on the perpetrator's specific grievances and extremist views. Such targets could include government facilities, health care workers, politicians and women.
The sense of uncertainty generated by the pandemic and by conspiracy theories provide fertile ground for ideological extremism. Furthermore, the relative normalization of using violent threats to express disagreement, in addition to the spread of disinformation, undermines social resilience. All of this contributes to favourable conditions for actors to mobilize to violence.
I will stop here and would be very happy to answer your questions.
I will turn it over to my colleague Cherie Henderson.
Thank you, Madam Chayer.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I understand that the committee has voted to include the remarks that Tim Hahlweg, my predecessor, delivered to you last year on the same topic. Since I'm sharing my time with ITAC's executive director, I'll do my best to be succinct.
Let me begin by saying that the threat that ideologically motivated violence extremism, or IMVE, poses remains a high priority for CSIS.
CSIS has the mandate to investigate threats to the security of Canada, to advise the government on these threats, and to take steps to reduce them.
However, it is not illegal to be hateful, racist or misogynist. Freedom of speech is constitutionally protected, and while the Internet is filled with bigoted and misogynistic language and narratives, much of it falls under the category of “awful but lawful”.
As we explained in our annual public report released last week, IMVE is a complex and constantly evolving threat, and Canada is not immune to its impact. That is why we have been dedicating increased resources to investigate and counter this threat.
In total, there have been seven attacks and three disrupted plots in the Canadian IMVE space since 2014. These attacks have killed 26 people and wounded 40 others on Canadian soil, more than any other form of terrorism.
Most recently, in June 2021, an attack in London, Ontario, killed four individuals and seriously injured another.
In October 2021, a former Canadian Armed Forces reservist was sentenced to nine years in a U.S. prison for plotting serious violence with members of The Base, a neo-Nazi group that is a listed terrorist entity in Canada.
Overall, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, IMVE activity has been fuelled by an increase in extreme anti-authority and anti-government rhetoric, often rooted in the weaponization of conspiracy theories.
In that context, CSIS has observed a marked increase in violent threats to elected officials and government representatives during the past two years.
On the 2022 “freedom convoy”, as the director explained earlier this week to the Special Joint Committee on the Declaration of Emergency, “CSIS is specifically prohibited from investigating lawful advocacy, protest or dissent, except when it is carried out in conjunction with activities that constitute a threat to the security of Canada”. CSIS closely monitored for opportunities the protest could have presented to IMVE threat actors to promote or engage in serious acts of violence in Canada.
In conclusion, I want to reiterate that the people of CSIS are committed to fulfilling our mandate to protect Canada, working closely with communities and our partners across the country to keep all Canadians safe.
With that, I will turn it over to Public Safety.
Good morning, committee members. I'm very happy to be here today with my colleague from Public Safety's Canada Centre for Community and Engagement and Prevention of Violence, Mr. Robert Burley, as well as my colleagues from CSIS and RCMP.
The opportunity to speak before this committee on ideologically motivated violent extremism, or IMVE, as we call it, is a welcome one. My team and I at Public Safety have been following this study for the last several weeks. We have watched with interest the quality of witnesses who have come forward and offered their views and expertise, and we're pleased to be able to add to it today.
By way of context, Public Safety Canada's national security mandate is to coordinate the activities of federal departments and agencies representing the Canadian security and intelligence community, or, as we refer to it, the S and I community. In this role, it is the responsibility of Public Safety Canada to develop and provide policy advice to the on national security matters in support of the many operational activities undertaken by the S and I community every day in service to Canada. This includes functioning as a centralized hub for coordinating work on a number of national security issues, including cybersecurity, critical infrastructure protection, countering foreign interference and, of course, counterterrorism and ideologically motivated violent extremism.
On this last point, I wish to highlight that Public Safety is also responsible for terrorist listings. It is worth noting that in 2021, Canada added 17 new groups to the Criminal Code list of terrorist entities, including six IMVE groups and one individual, raising the total IMVE-specific listings to nine. In fact, just last week, the RCMP charged a suspected member of the international neo-Nazi terrorist network, Atomwaffen Division, in Windsor Ontario. Atomwaffen Division is one of those six groups listed in 2021.
With respect to IMVE, in December 2021, the received his mandate letter from the . In that letter, the minister was instructed to bring forward measures to counter IMVE and strengthen the capacity of police and prosecutors to bring terrorist suspects to justice to the fullest extent of the law.
We in Public Safety Canada, along with others in the S and I community, are actively working to support this commitment now and over the longer term, both internationally as well as domestically. We know that it will require significant effort and will not be resolved overnight. IMVE is a complex, ever-evolving threat, as this committee is well aware.
Internationally, the rise of IMVE is an issue that Canada's closest allies are equally grappling with. For example, countering terrorism and violent extremism in all forms was a key commitment in the road map for a renewed U.S.-Canada partnership signed by the and the President of the United States in February of 2021.
Countering IMVE is also a growing area of collaboration with our Five Eyes—U.K., U.S., Australia, New Zealand—and G7 partners, and is a subject of other multilateral efforts of which Canada is an active participant. The most notable among these would be under the Christchurch call to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.
I raise this point only to highlight that countering the rise of IMVE is not a uniquely Canadian issue, and that concerted international co-operation and dialogue will continue to be needed to effectively address it.
Domestically, we at Public Safety are aware of the need to be open and transparent with Canadians when it comes to making and sustaining progress to counter IMVE here at home. This means, in practice, engagement with civil society, academia, industry, provincial and territorial partners, and others in trying to understand Canadians' expectations of the federal government in this space, and to ensure Canada's approach is a whole-of-society one.
I also wish to underline that we recognize it will be highly important to hear from vulnerable and racialized communities, and ensure that their views and experiences are heard. We are highly attuned to the need for engagement that is respectful and reassures all Canadians of our understanding of IMVE for what it is, which is a serious threat confronted by Canada today.
In this vein, it is important to highlight the role of prevention as an essential component of a whole-of-government and a whole-of-society response. Prevention is key to countering—
Good morning, Mr. Chair and committee members.
It is a beautiful day indeed.
I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to continue answering questions about IMVE.
As a quick refresher, I'm Mike Duheme, deputy commissioner of the RCMP in federal policing. This includes the national security portfolio that falls under my responsibility.
Over the past months, my team has been following the work being conducted by this committee. We commend you for bringing forward such a diverse and knowledgeable list of experts on the subject, as well as the key service providers and industry professionals who need to be part of the solution going forward. Throughout these appearances, you have been given a great deal of information, some of which has no doubt raised concerns about Canada's ability to effectively combat the growing threat around IMVE threat actors.
For the most part, the calls for concern that you have heard are real. We know the IMVE threat environment is rapidly evolving and complex, and is increasingly fuelled by misinformation and hostile rhetoric surrounding a host of grievances, many of which focus on the government's response to COVID-19 and other matters. This has sewn distrust in government institutions, including law enforcement, and has augmented the ability for extremist groups to both recruit new members and increasingly foster hostility.
For you and the majority of Canadians, this hostility has manifested itself in the daily news and social media. For many RCMP officers and our fellow law enforcement partners it has manifested itself in all too real confrontation, both during the occupation in Ottawa and the numerous border crossing blockades.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the RCMP has seen a marked increase in the number of instances of ideologically motivated violent extremism, or IMVE, occurrences, the majority of which come from threat actors who have no clear group affiliation, who are motivated by highly personalized and nuanced ideologies that lead them to incite and/or mobilize to violence.
During my last appearance, I described the scope of the problem the RCMP is facing. My appearance today will focus on what the RCMP is doing about it. Before answering that question, it must be made clear that the RCMP's Federal Policing Program is one part of the solution. Our enforcement actions are the thin edge of the wedge when it comes to a broader Government of Canada response. The bulk of our collective response needs to be focused on proactive measures, steps that can be taken before frustrations can be moulded into hate and violence.
Further, it is important to remember that the RCMP Federal Policing Program is specifically responsible for threats that cross into the national security space, which means criminality that meets the criteria laid out in section 2 of the CSIS Act. Police of jurisdiction maintain responsibility for investigating hate motivated criminal activity, which make up the vast majority of occurrences.
With that said, for the past year or so, the RCMP has taken concrete steps to get its own house in order. It began by talking to our investigators in the field in our various national security focused units, because these are the people who deal with IMVE threats on the front lines. We then met with the support teams at national headquarters who assist with and provide intelligence information to those officers. In both cases, we identified the real-life gaps and challenges that are being faced when trying to identify and take action on potential IMVE threat actors.
From that, the RCMP has developed a comprehensive strategy that will seek to address those gaps and challenges over the next three years. This will mean revamping everything from the training that our officers receive to reallocating resources to better fit the current threat picture. It will mean rethinking how we share information with key partners, as well as aligning federal policing resources to undertake what needs to be done to give our officers the tools they need to address this threat effectively and efficiently.
Like any broad approach to dealing with complex problems, the RCMP strategy also focuses on shifting from being largely reactive to being proactive. This will improve our relationships with key partners in the community and the respective local law enforcement bodies so that we can identify threats before they cross the national security threshold. It will be done by improving information sharing and building up our own intelligence capacity, specifically in the online space. By doing this, we will be in a better position to identify individuals and groups who pose a threat before they are motivated to violence.
In addition, the RCMP will continue to use all the tools that it has at its disposal when IMVE threats are identified. This would include the use of peace bonds, listing regime, revocation of passports, the use of the Secure Air Travel Act, the no-fly list and other tools that will disrupt the imminent. However, make no mistake. As several of the academics have informed this committee—
It would have been nice to have a statement of concern, at least, from CSIS for these communities, considering the fact that at 4 a.m., in my town of Morinville, over 50 people had to be evacuated from their homes because a church was burned down. There was a massive threat that a seniors home and apartments were going to be burned to the ground. It was only due to the heroism of 50 local volunteer firefighters that this blaze was brought under control.
This could have been potentially one of the highest mass casualty terrorist events on Canadian soil in our modern history, yet it doesn't seem to have merited a single mention by our security services. I want to put that on the record.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would begin with the significant effort we're placing on the prevention end of the spectrum, including work within our own Canada centre. I might ask that our expert, Robert Burley, speak to the amount of work that's going on in the IMVE space.
Between terrorism listings, the items that Mike Duheme already referenced, the no-fly list, and the SATA list, there are a number of tools we can lever to begin to minimize the threat to Canadians, and also to work concertedly on the prevention end of the spectrum.
There is more to be done. There's a significant amount of strategic thinking occurring across all of our national security organizations to understand whether or not the framework that we have in place is adequate. We're keenly interested in some of the recommendations that are likely to come out of this committee to understand where we might place our resources and better impact outcomes in this space.
Thank you for the question.
Today, right now, we are faced with threats from all across the spectrum, and we look at what we term “ideologically motived violent extremism,” which we're here to speak about today, as well as religiously motivated violent extremism.
In the service, we have moved a lot of our resources across over to look at IMVE. We see that as an increasing threat at the moment within Canada.
As indicated by my colleague from Public Safety, this is a threat that is not only within Canada. All of our allies around the world are experiencing the same rise of ideologically motivated violent extremists. The challenge with this particular...and I can't even call it a group, because it is a—
I want to thank the witnesses for being here.
Mr. Duheme, you are practically a regular at the committee now. Thank you for your availability.
I was discussing this very matter recently with Mr. Sauvé-Laframboise of the National Police Federation, which you are very likely familiar with. He said that one of the greatest challenges facing the RCMP right now is staffing. There are clearly not enough officers on the ground. In his opinion, even if the government were to implement new regulations or new policies, it would not be enough. As MPs, we want to create a legislative framework, but if there is no one to enforce it, we will be no further ahead.
Is this a problem you are facing in combatting the rise of IMVE? Are you aware of this lack of human resources?
That is interesting. Thank you very much.
Mr. Sauvé-Laframboise also said that one of the reasons for the staff shortage is the bad publicity about police in recent years.
As in any occupation, some people can slide into extremism. The media said a lot about former RCMP or armed forces members being involved in the “freedom convoy”. That of course did not help the image of these organizations. It is unfortunate, but it is the case for all organizations. In the case of an organization that is supposed to protect the public, however, that hurts us more.
To your knowledge, have any specific internal steps been taken to raise awareness among your team members in order to prevent them from getting involved in extremism or this kind of movement? Even if everyone is in good faith, it can happen to anyone.
Ms. Michaud, the identification of those people internally starts right at recruitment stage. That is when we determine whether candidates have the necessary personality traits to do police work.
Throughout the career of a police officer, RCMP officer or certain employees, we regularly review their security clearance. I believe it is every ten years for a secret clearance. The challenge is identifying people when they are starting to shift to a different outlook that is in keeping with these ideologies. This can be challenging, and we are aware of it.
Unfortunately, we have no control over people when they retire. Sometimes they even derive self-esteem from their experience as police officers and use that to gain a certain status in these groups. This challenge is not unique to the police. Various departments face the same challenge and have to identify these people in advance, before they join this group.
This is for the witnesses from CSIS.
Some media outlets reported that your office that countered right-wing extremism was closed in 2016. I assume it has been reopened, but that is part of my question.
Mr. Vigneault, the service director said that your service did not necessarily have enough staff to effectively monitor all kinds of extremists and that you might have some catching up to do as regards changes in technology and the threat.
Can you tell us whether you have reopened that office? Why are you paying particular attention to all extreme right-wing and ideologically-motivated violent movements?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to all of our witnesses for appearing today.
The last couple of days have been a very sombre time for the NDP caucus. As our witnesses are probably very well aware, on Tuesday in Peterborough, our leader, , had to wade through a group of people who were calling him a traitor. They were hurling expletives at him and saying they hoped he would die. They were hounding him all the way to his waiting vehicle.
This is the exact same kind of behaviour we saw littered throughout the occupation of Ottawa. It's time for us to wake up to the fact that this kind of behaviour has real physical manifestations and real threats.
I want to know from public safety and from CSIS.... You did talk about the rise of this, and I'm glad to see that this issue is being taken quite seriously, but the rhetoric we saw in Peterborough on Tuesday was the exact same kind of rhetoric we saw throughout Ottawa during the convoy and in its lead-up.
My question is for Public Safety. In the convoys and rallies we have seen, is there evidence that these have been used as recruiting tools to foster greater connection and co-operation between various IMVE groups?
To your question, sir, the protective policing, again under my program, has responsibilities to protect members of Parliament. We do have a ministerial liaison team that liaises with not only the ministers but also with the leads of the official parties to discuss any ongoing security concerns.
I did find out about this. We are following up on it. It's unacceptable. It's not the first time. I'm well aware of Kidder because it happened here in Ottawa, and we're following up on it to determine what can be done.
We had a brief submitted by Dr. Stephanie Carvin. She lamented the fact that there seems to be a general lack of interest from Parliament, and I don't think our politics reflects the level of concern that there should be about IMVE. She lamented the lack of interest in national security legislation. She identified the fact that Australia, for example, usually introduces legislation to update its national security laws every couple of years. By contrast, we do it about once every decade.
I think as parliamentarians we need to understand from the experts before us today about what your agencies are missing both in policy and in legislation. Maybe you could just take the next minute to inform us as parliamentarians of the tools that you would like to see Parliament fully and responsibly discuss in order to allow your agencies to fully meet this threat and to keep Canadians safe.
Thank you to the witnesses for your testimony today.
I want to ask CSIS a few questions about some recent ransomware attacks in the United States, the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack, and the threat level in Canada.
I'm sure you're very aware of this, but the FBI was involved in the investigation there. The attack shut down a critical pipeline for several hours. Seventeen states and Washington, D.C. declared a state of emergency. Then, of course, this past February we saw the attack on the Coastal GasLink pipeline in B.C. There was millions of dollars of damage, and the workers were terrorized. The damage to sites we saw was unbelievable.
Can you elaborate to the committee on what investigation you're doing in this regard? Is it on your radar? Are you concerned about attacks on our critical infrastructure such as pipelines?
That's a very good question, and thank you very much.
When we are looking at paragraph 2(c) of our act, we are looking at any sort of individual who wants to engage in serious violent activity in order to pursue a specific objective, and that can be a political objective.
When we are carefully monitoring, we're trying to determine whether or not that's already breached into a criminal.... As activity may be just criminal, versus trying to actually achieve a political change or some sort of policy change. There is a slight differentiation there.
When we do start to look at these sorts of investigations, we work extremely closely with our RCMP partners to make sure that if it is moving into, or has already been, in the criminal space.... We leave it to them so that we are efficiently and effectively using our limited resources, or our constrained resources, if I can say so, to make sure that we are using them to try to track or stop those future potential acts.
It is a bit of a balancing act, and we work very closely with our police partners, just to make sure that we are all alive and in tune to what would be criminal and what would be a terrorist attack in order to achieve a political objective.
Okay. Thank you for that.
My next question is actually following up on my colleague Mr. MacGregor's question about attacks on politicians as well as public officials. We've seen attacks on public health officers. Certainly, I know my colleague has talked about aggressive attacks on her, and I've received threats, as did the during the election campaign. Most recently, there were the horrible attacks that the experienced in Peterborough.
Are there additional steps that the government should be taking to ensure that politicians and those in the public eye are not being subjected to these kinds of threats? I recognize that there's work being done by the Parliamentary Protective Service and the RCMP, but it seems like there are many times when these are not followed by criminal charges being laid. It still feels like it's a matter of time before this rhetoric and these kinds of aggressive anger turn into something more violent.
Perhaps that's for the RCMP.
If I can bring you back to my last appearance before this committee, I shared with you some numbers that we looked at during the period of 2019 and 2020. Out of 273 files that met the criteria we selected for IMVE, 145 never met the threshold. The other ones were investigated or passed on to the police of jurisdiction.
It is a challenge with regard to meeting that threshold. When we do have a file with regard to potential threats, be it online, via phone or directly, we engage with PPSC, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, to discuss the file to see if we've met the threshold for these threats. It is a challenge, I can say from an RCMP perspective.
I did mention that the ministerial liaison team is reaching out to all the ministers on a monthly basis, as well as the leaders of the opposition. I know that the director of the PPS as well as the Sergeant-at-Arms are doing a lot of work on their front with regard to the members of Parliament—
This is for the witnesses from CSIS.
Mr. Hahlweg, another official who appeared before the committee, talked to us about the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act, or CLOUD Act, in the United States. Such a law would theoretically give CSIS easier access to data stored on servers located outside Canada.
Knowing that many such cases of violence begin online, can you confirm that the enactment of legislation similar to the American law might help you in your work?
Ms. Soper noted earlier that we have to keep dialoguing with our allies, internationally, on how to counter the rise in IMVE. Would it be helpful to enact that kind of legislation? What changes might it mean for CSIS?
Colleagues, that ends this panel. We will now take a very short break, but before we do that, I want to say thank the witnesses on your behalf for the testimony that has been brought before this committee.
You live these issues every day. You have brought your wisdom, your expertise and your experience to this committee. On the members' behalf, I thank you.
Colleagues, I think it's going to be a very short turnaround.
Clerk, will we be ready in, say, two minutes? It's a two-minute break, and then we'll be off to the second hour.
I very much appreciate the opportunity to speak to you on a topic that I think is of growing concern, but one that has been around for awhile, which is something I think we sometimes forget.
As you know, my knowledge today of IMVE is based on what I glean from the media, but I hope that my experience over the years will enable me to make a few useful points and to answer any questions you might have.
As I noted above, IMVE has been around for awhile. Indeed, it was on our radar, although not with the priority it has today, when I was at CSIS. The difference is that then there were far fewer people involved, and in some ways it was less intense, and it was less organized and less coordinated. To state the obvious, the better organization and coordination today are because of the Internet in its various manifestations. Also, those involved with IMVE clearly feel much more intensely about their concerns than was the case I think a couple of decades ago.
This last point, the growth and intensity over the years, is the case in part because no one has really tried to get at the root of the causes of the dissatisfaction that is at the base of IMVE. I know that your order of reference does not specifically direct you to examine the causes of IMVE, but I would urge you not to ignore that aspect of the problem.
Whatever preventative and legal measures are necessary to deal with violence, I'm convinced that alone they will not be enough to stamp it out. Even if we succeed in doing so, it will not be the end of IMVE because, like most national security issues, it is not purely domestic in nature. Whatever the origins of IMVE, it always receives some ideas and moral support from abroad, if not sometimes funding and training.
Unless we do what China does, and isolate Canada from the Internet, which is unthinkable, I do not see how we can stop ideas and support from abroad, which brings me back to my point about addressing the causes of IMVE, as well as its kinetic effects. To deal with the violence, we will need control and punitive measures, but these must be built as narrowly and transparently as possible, or, without intending it, we will be promoting the further development of IMVE.
This leads me to the question of who is best suited to deal with the root causes of IMVE? While they may have a role, in my view at any rate, it is certainly not CSIS, the RCMP, nor police more generally. Provinces, cities and civil society will have to be involved. Perhaps the federal role should be developing a framework, coordinating and perhaps providing some funding.
In summary, IMVE has been with us for awhile and has deep roots. It goes to the effectiveness of our democracy. Violence is not acceptable even if we must accept extreme views. Dealing with IMVE's root causes is an integral part of dealing with the problem, and this must involve more than the police and security agencies. Control and punitive measures are certainly necessary to suppress violence, but they must be narrowly targeted, lest we make things worse.
I think for the first time I've appeared before this committee I finished before my five minutes.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. It is a pleasure to be appearing before you today. My testimony will focus on how we should think of the role of different kinds of online platforms in facilitating IMVE and what we should do about it.
To begin, I'd like to start with an analogy as to how we can think about online platforms. The analogy, since I'm travelling internationally, is to an airport. An airport is sort of a real-world platform that allows passengers like me to connect to airplanes going to many different places around the world. We can think about online platforms in a similar way. Online platforms are points of connection that connect people to different kinds of organizations or other individuals around the world for different purposes.
Until now, the focus of legislative efforts in Canada has been around regulating platforms for expression, such as YouTube, Twitter and the like. These are platforms that curate and distribute user-generated content. I'm very honoured to be on an expert panel, appointed by Minister , to think about the regulation of these kinds of platforms and the harms they cause. Platforms come in many different stripes. As we've seen with the Ottawa convoy protests, there is now a focus on crowdfunding, but this is not the only kind of online platform that is in need of regulation. There are many others that impact our daily lives as Canadians. We think about platforms for transportation, Uber and the like, and platforms that enable the sharing economy, Airbnb and so forth. There are many different kinds of these.
It seems to me that a useful approach for this committee and for Parliament to consider in dealing with the kinds of harms that can be facilitated by platforms is to move beyond a focus on platforms that facilitate expression to those that facilitate various kinds of real-world impacts. Certainly, expression can have a tangible impact in the real world. It can incite violence among other things. It can cause harm to people's dignity. Of course, the challenge in regulating platforms for expression is the constitutional protection of free expression in Canada under the charter. By contrast, it is far easier for governments to regulate conduct on other kinds of platforms precisely because of the nature of the activity they facilitate—economic exchange, the movement of goods, the sale of goods and the accommodation of other services.
The previous witness spoke about root causes. Certainly, online platforms that permit the sharing of extremist content have an important role to play in reducing the flow of extremist ideas that lead to recruitment and the like. There's an important role for governments working in international partnerships. As the previous witness mentioned, this is a transnational problem. There is certainly an important role there, and an important interest to reconcile, but I would suggest that we also need to deal with the problem in public policy that we've provided other kinds of online platforms with a sort of digital exceptionalism from regulation.
This is now being corrected with regard to crowdfunding through the extension of generally applicable rules that apply to other financial intermediaries that facilitate transactions in the bricks and mortar world to crowdfunding sites. This is a welcome development. I would suggest that it would be a useful approach for Parliament to consider to extend regulation that applies in the bricks and mortar physical world to activities online, especially those that could be used to facilitate and incite online violence or violence in the real world.
Thank you very much.
I don't think that attacking views is helpful on the part of anybody—not by you, not by me and not by the . You can disagree with them. That's a different issue, but I think the went a little bit beyond that and I don't think it was helpful. It's the sort of thing that reinforces the sense that they're not being listened to.
I actually disagree with most of the views that were being expressed in that general context, but that's neither here nor there. We need to find some means of dialoguing. When I used to work, I used to argue that we have to find some means of dialoguing, for example, with the Taliban. If you don't talk to them somehow, you aren't going stop fighting them.
My argument is that we cannot start a priori by arguing that they're wrong. You can argue that they must not engage in violence. That's an entirely different issue and I want to separate that very carefully. If they pass that line and become engaged in violence, you have to do something about it, but we need to find some way of talking to them.
No, I think that ostracizing anybody is not helpful. That can range from my ostracizing my son if I'm really disagreeing with him.... You need to find a way to dialogue.
If I can just raise a point I made in my opening remarks, I think it's important to figure out who is best equipped to do the dialoguing. On the basis of my experience, I don't think that the police and CSIS are particularly well-equipped to do it. They have entirely different mandates, which are to try to prevent and to deal with actual crimes. It would be like, “Hi, I'm from the RCMP. I'm wearing a gun and I can arrest you. I'd like to dialogue on your views.” It's not to be disrespectful of the RCMP. It's just not what they are paid to do, I would argue. Should they be involved in this in some way? I think so, but it's a role for civil society generally.
As I was arguing, national security isn't national anymore. It's both international and subnational. This is not a partisan comment; I would apply it to both of the major parties. I would argue that it's not a federal issue exclusively. I think until we get our head around that fact, we're going to continue to have difficulties. We have to involve the provinces and municipalities. We do also involve the international environment far more than we used to.
Unless we do that and take advantage of opportunities to deal with civil society, and even in school boards, to start talking about these things early, we will end up having to use control and punitive measures to deal with violence.
Yes, and I'll just go back to the 's remarks that those who didn't agree with him had fringe, unacceptable views and were misogynists. He is frankly the most powerful man in the country and he should be leading by example. Regardless of how you feel about it, it certainly sets the tone about how other authorities who report to him can act and what they can say.
I'll just throw the last few seconds back to you. Can you further elaborate? When you get that kind of power and speak in that way and double down, for example, what impact does that have on those being driven to extremism?
I think they have a role. I do not think they have the lead role.
I think CSIS's job fundamentally is to collect information. That's the the basis of the statute that created CSIS. Their job is to find information, analyze it and pass it on to government, generally to try to prevent problems. That does not preclude their trying to think about dealing with the root causes, but I don't think....
I can remember that when I was director of CSIS we had complaints when CSIS officers knocked on the doors of people, just asking them for information. They said they were being harassed. This was largely because of people who came to Canada from abroad, but you have to remember: the mindset that a lot of people have about CSIS and the RCMP is not entirely positive. It's not their fault. It's their job. I think they have a role, but I don't think they should have the lead.
First of all, I think it should be a national framework, not a federal one. I think it's one that should be developed with provinces and others. It should, I think, try to identify the harm or the evil that we're trying to suppress. I was listening earlier on when your other witness was before you, and I think there was some difficulty in answering your questions about what exactly becomes a national security issue, what's an old-fashioned crime and what's in the middle.
I think we need more of a dialogue about what exactly we're trying to suppress, and I think that's something the federal government could lead on, because it creates the criminal law, but on the other hand, the provinces implement it through the police. I think it should involve probably roles for civil society, for universities and for organizations and possibly provide some funding.
I mean, that's a very general answer, and I don't mean to be unhelpful, but it just seems to me that limiting ourselves—by “ourselves”, I mean the federal government—to suppressing IMVE and trying to find out about it before we need to repress it is not enough. We need to think about it more holistically and more broadly, both conceptually and with other parties.
Yes, I would put it on a spectrum. At one end, there's sending somebody to a federal penitentiary. At the other end, it's somebody—I don't know who, but maybe a municipal councillor—talking to somebody who's really unhappy about the vaccine mandate that was mentioned earlier, and there's everything in the middle.
I think part of the challenge, and I admit that it's a challenge, is dealing with every point on the spectrum. I would argue that we made the same mistake—and I include myself in this—when we were dealing with terrorism. We concentrated too much on this end and not enough on the other end and what's in the middle.
I would argue that we have to deal with every point on the spectrum and try to.... We have to accept that violence is unacceptable, period. There is enforcement, there's prosecution and there are arrests, but the idea is to push it to this end of the spectrum to reduce the likelihood that the police will have something to do.
I think it's the latter, because if it becomes known in an instant that this effort is going to feed the intelligence community, nobody's going to talk to them. I think that's just old-fashioned horse sense, if I can put it that way. I think it's mostly people understanding that there's a possibility of a problem.
For the various incendiary people who were in the convoy in Ottawa and who participated across the country, it would be interesting to know if there's any mechanism today that would allow follow-up to talk to them, other than the police going to see if they can arrest them. Now, if they committed a crime, they should be arrested, but most of them didn't commit any particularly serious crime.
But if we don't talk to these people—and I mean other than CSIS or the RCMP—they're going to continue to be annoyed and we're going to have a problem over time. At least, that's my submission.
Thanks to the witnesses for being here.
Mr. Fadden, thank you for your participation. Your remarks are very interesting, and I will continue in the same vein as my colleague, Mr. McKinnon.
You talked about a national framework and said that the solution does not lie entirely within CSIS or the RCMP, and that members of civil society would have to contribute more to the solution, as well as universities and municipalities.
Could you please clarify what role those members of society could play? What role could they be given in fighting IMVE, in your opinion?
One of the challenges we have in Canada in dealing with IMVE, terrorism or things of this nature is that, aside from you and a few of your colleagues, unless there's a crisis, we do not talk about it. We just don't. To be blunt, there are no votes for you from talking about national security unless there's a crisis. There is a whole raft of other problems to be talked about and to be dealt with.
The first thing that civil society could usefully do is talk openly about these things, so that we don't think everything has to take place under the colour of darkness. When that happens, people very quickly find themselves driven to the end of the spectrum that I was talking about. A lot of it is talking about it. A lot of it is having organization.
I hope I'm not going to get myself in trouble today, but I really think that political correctness has reached the point today where it's almost impossible to have a conversation about a whole raft of issues. If you're frustrated with government and society to begin with, this is not helpful. Simply organizing and, if necessary, funding dialogue and conversation that could eventually work their way up to you and your colleagues with suggestions for change is where I would start.
That is very interesting. That might also be an approach to prevention. There are many vulnerable people who might get caught up in this kind of movement. If we reach out to them before they become directly involved and be proactive by engaging in dialogue about this, I think that could be very helpful to them.
In many cases nowadays, it all starts online. There is quite a rise in online violence and we are trying to create legislation to address that. As said, it will take more than new legislation, but I do think extra effort is needed in this regard. Our reality today is that many things happen in the virtual world and then have negative effects in the real world. We saw this in particular with the “freedom convoy”. Some things that were said online materialized in the real world.
In your opinion, how can we address this situation or enact legislation without unduly affecting freedom of expression? I think that is the big challenge. In your opinion, how can we find the right balance between these two?
I think you put it very well, and it was what I was trying to say in my opening remarks. If you choose to regulate in this area, you should do so as precisely as possible, articulating very clearly the harm that you're trying to prevent and do no more, and then talk openly about how you're doing it. This may be surprising for somebody who's worked in security for a good chunk of his career, but I would tend to do as little regulating of the Internet and social media as we can actually get away with, because it is a dangerous path to go down. Today, we're doing it for this narrow reason and the next day, we're doing it for something more broadly.
I do think, on the other hand, that we can monitor more carefully what is on social media and what's on the Internet generally. Possibly, we should find some way of not contradicting, but articulating opposing views to those that are set out and that promote violence and other things. That's a very difficult thing to ask of any government, but I wonder if it's worth thinking about and talking about. Maybe encourage universities to do it, I don't know.
I would go back to what you were saying, that we should be very careful if we're going to start legislating what is or is not acceptable. If another country did this in eastern Europe or in Asia, Canada would be the first country to condemn it, so we should be very careful not to go down this path unless it is absolutely clear that there's a harm that has to be suppressed and there's no other way to do it.
I used to have a friend who was the deputy minister of justice, and he used to say he would block any legislative initiative unless he was absolutely convinced there wasn't a non-legislative way of doing it. I'm not sure we do that all the time now as much as we should.
Your answer is interesting.
I remember when learned that Elon Musk was going to buy Twitter, a few days or weeks ago. We raised questions about this in committee, because we had some concerns. We wondered what would be accepted in the interest of freedom of expression and what would be regulated by the new head of a social network where a lot of things happen.
My colleagues can also testify to the fact that we receive a lot of negative comments on Twitter from anonymous accounts that people hide behind to send messages that are in many cases violent.
To your knowledge, do any countries other than Canada have legislation or regulations addressing this?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Fadden, for joining us.
I very much agree with you. I think we need more dialogue in this country, and I have actually noticed an improvement in our politics since we started getting off of Zoom and interacting with each other in person. It has definitely helped to see our colleagues from all parties again.
With regard to what you were talking about, we had a very interesting witness last week, Mr. McAleer, who is a former white supremacist who reformed himself and started an organization called Life After Hate, where he uses his personal knowledge of the white supremacy movement to reach out to people who are in that movement to help them get out. I was asking him about the challenge we have as policy-makers where on one hand we as the public want to denounce hateful ideology, but on the other hand we want to try to reach out to an individual. He was talking to us about how that can be extremely difficult, because when a person's identity and ideology become intertwined so they are one in the same, when you are denouncing their ideology, that person feels that their identity is being attacked.
Following Ms. Dancho's line of questioning, it is important that we set a model of dialogue in our politics, but Mr. McAleer also said that while we never condemn, we also never concede. I'm wondering about your thoughts on that, because I think there's also a responsibility for our political leaders not to set an example that is encouraging that type of behaviour. I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on that approach and if you can further elaborate on those concepts.
It's a good question. I had not thought about that. It seems to me that it goes back some degree, though, to what I was saying a moment ago, which is that, broadly speaking, these national security or serious crime issues are not things that we want to talk about, period, in this country. We just don't talk about them. I supported ministers over the years, and they would do virtually anything to avoid having to deal with a national security issue because there's no win in it. You can't win in national security; it's just not possible. You're irritating somebody somewhere.
It seems to me that the beginning of what you're talking about is talking about these things positively and negatively. I don't know how that's going to be possible, because, if you'll forgive me for saying so, the political environment in Parliament today is very, very partisan. Anybody who takes an initiative slightly off the beaten path is susceptible to being beaten about the head, if you'll forgive me for saying so.
I'd argue, as somebody who's worked in this area for a long time, that national security should be an area where there's less partisanship. We've seen this come and go over the years, but there's a real real risk in doing this, and I think that if you don't create a bubble around people who are trying to do this, it isn't going to work. If you can't do it, then who can is the next question for you political leaders. I think there are other leaders in society who are amenable to doing this.
I continue to believe that the universities have a role in this sort of thing today, but as I was perhaps unwisely saying, political correctness is preventing much discussion now about some of these issues.
I'm not doing a very good job at answering your question, and I apologize, but it just seems to me that more discussion, generally, with some protection for somebody who's willing to take a little bit of a risk would be a good place to start.