North Korea and the so-called Islamic State are considered the biggest threats to national security, according to a new poll, but there are growing fears about the risk of homegrown terrorists in Canada.
The poll, conducted exclusively for Global News, found 74 per cent of respondents viewed ISIS as the biggest security risk to the country followed by North Korea, 73 per cent, terror groups like Al Qaeda, 72 per cent, and homegrown or radicalized terrorists at 72 per cent.
A series of missile tests by North Korea over the last year has put the world on edge with the range of the rockets steadily expanding. In November, North Korea’s state television reported the successful test of a new intercontinental missile, called a Hwasong-15, which had the capability of reaching the U.S. mainland.
The tests sparked international outrage with world leaders rushing to condemn the tests. U.S. Donald Trump has engaged with increasingly fiery rhetoric with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Canada and the U.S. have also held the North accountable for a cyberattack that affected hundreds of thousands of computers in more than 100 countries around the world.
“The threat from North Korea is real,” Mark Gwozdecky, an assistant deputy minister with the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, told a parliamentary committee in Ottawa in September.
The North Korean nuclear crisis recently dominated talks between Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who jointly announced a major international meeting of foreign ministers on the hermit kingdom in January 2018 in Vancouver.
And while 2017 saw the battle with ISIS across Iraq and Syria come to a conclusion, there is a growing view among public safety officials about the safety risk posed by foreign fighters.
A new report from Public Safety Canada — which oversees CSIS and the RCMP — said extremists inspired by groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda remain the top terrorism threat in Canada, mirroring some of the results of the Ipsos poll.
It’s believed there are roughly 60 people who have returned to Canada from fighting in conflicts around the world. It’s unclear how many of them fought specifically with ISIS.
The report now estimates there are 190 people with a “nexus” to Canada who are overseas and suspected of engaging in terrorist activity — roughly half of them in Turkey, Syria or Iraq.
“There is absolutely a real threat, and this is why governments have to take this seriously and can’t just wish for the best,” said Stephanie Carvin, an assistant professor of international affairs at Carleton University and former government security analyst.
Carvin said that people who go overseas to join terror groups can develop robust networks that can be used to raise money, resources and people to facilitate attacks.
“Here in the Canadian context, the biggest problem that we have is that these guys will go on to radicalize others,” she said. “The problem is, we’ve become too focused on the numbers and not what the threat is.
The Ipsos poll, which surveyed more than 2,000 people, also found 64 per cent of respondents said political violence by those on the right or left was the greatest threat to the safety of Canadians followed by Iran (53 per cent), Syria (51 per cent) and Russia (46 per cent).
Indeed, the Public Safety report also warned that right-wing extremism is a “growing concern” in Canada, which warns while these groups in Canada are predominantly active online, there is a potential for violence.
“The evolution from online hate to serious acts of politically-motivated violence with the intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of the public in regard to its sense of security, could be considered a terrorism offence,” the report said.
The mass shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City in January, where six men were killed and several others wounded, was used as an example of “attacks perpetrated by those who espouse extreme right-wing views,” according to the report.
“All forms of ideology have the potential to inspire individuals or groups to commit acts of violence in their name,” the report said.
“In Canada, a small number of individuals continue to be radicalized and mobilized to violence, and may attempt to further their causes through violent means.”
*With a file from Leslie Young