Patrick Grady
Muslim Immigration Fuels the Terrorist Threat to Canada
September 25, 2014
Muslim immigration numbers revised April 10, 2016

The threat of terrorist attacks is rising again. Radical Islam has been metastasizing across the Middle East at a frightening pace, leaving greater instability and horrifying violence in its train. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has established a so-called Caliphate, a long-held dream of Islamists, and has directly challenged the United States and other Western countries by the symbolic acts of beheading the American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and the British aid worker David Haines. Eerily, in the videos released to strike terror into the hearts of infidels, the black-hooded executioner speaks with a London accent. And the narrator in another ISIS video is suspected to have a Canadian accent.

The Islamic State has a powerful emotional and religious appeal to many young radicalized Western Muslims. In the 2014 Public Report On The Terrorist Threat To Canada, the Canadian Government revealed that it was “aware of more than 130 individuals with a Canadian connections who were abroad and who were suspected of terrorism-related activities.” It also indicated that it was “aware of about 80 individuals who have returned to Canada after [extremist] travel abroad.” This is probably an underestimate of the total number. The CBC speculated based on its investigations that the number abroad for terrorism is more likely in the 200 to 300 range.

As an aside, the Canadian Government report curiously never uses the words Islam, Muslim or jihad in any of its 43 pages except for Islam where it is used as part of a group’s name like the Islam State. If the Canadian Government cannot frankly identify and discuss the threat, how can it possibly develop an effective strategy to counter it.

There are also first hand reports of an American being held captive by three people who he suspected were Canadians. And other news coverage of Canadian Muslims who had left for Syria.

Canadian Muslims going abroad to wage jihad has a long tradition going back to the infamous Khadr family. It has picked up in recent years with a steady flow of young Somali Canadians going off to join Al-Shabab. And the recent successful prosecution of one of their number, Mohamed Hersi, is unlikely to stem the stream.

On the domestic front, fortunately, Canadian Muslim terrorists have been singularly ineffectual. Ahmed Ressam, the would-be Millenium bomber targeting LAX, was nabbed at the U.S. border. Momin Khawaja was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in a bomb plot in the U.K. The Toronto 18 who wanted to behead the Prime Minister and blow up the CSIS building in Toronto were turned in by an informer. An alleged conspiracy to bomb Via Rail between Toronto and New York was nipped in the bud. But it would unrealistic to expect future domestic terrorists to continue to be as hapless if they are able to get training abroad from experienced and well-funded jihadis such as those wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria. And even lone wolves can kill many people and do a lot of damage.

The Canadian Government has taken some steps to deal with the terrorist threat from the Islamic State. This includes invalidating the passports of Canadian citizens who go abroad to join Islamic terrorists in Syria and Iraq, and sending 69 special forces to Iraq as advisers. There is an obvious question about whether the Courts will actually allow the Government to deprive prospective jihadis of their passports given their Charter rights. But at least until a successful challenge, the Government will be able to revoke passports if not citizenship as suggested by some. This is important as the U.N Security Council is likely to urge countries to adopt measures to restrict the travel of extremists.

The Government is right to take this threat from the Islamic State seriously as Canada has been specifically targeted in a recent audio. However, the 800-pound gorilla in the room that no one wants to mention is that successive Canadian Governments have made Canada increasingly vulnerable to Islamic terrorism through its immigration policy.

It should have been obvious following the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington that North America was going to be facing an increasing threat from Islamic extremists. Yet the Canadian Government actually continued to admit an average of almost 59 thousand immigrants from Muslim countries each year (accounting for almost a quarter of total immigrants admitted), bringing the total number of Muslims admitted over the 2002 to 2014 period to around 764 thousand (Chart 1). Of these, 141 thousand came from Pakistan and 104 thousand from Iran, both countries with governments that have supported international terrorists. As a consequence of immigration, the Muslim population has risen from 579,640 or 2 per cent of the Canadian population in 2001 to 1,053,945 or 3.2 per cent of the population by 2011, a hefty increase of 82 per cent and still growing rapidly (Table 1).

The problem, of course, is not that all Muslims are extremists, but rather that Muslim communities seem to spawn and harbor an extremist minority. That this is the case was confirmed by a February 2007 Environics poll that revealed that 12 per cent of Muslim Canadians surveyed believed that the terrorists attacks planned by the 18 young Muslims arrested in June 2006 were justified.

It should not be surprising that many Muslim immigrants admitted to Canada share the jihadist sympathies prevalent, but not universal, in the Muslim countries from which they come. They were never subjected to any serious security screening to weed out radicals. Indeed it would have been impossible to do that given their large numbers, not to mention the lack of available security resources, and the difficulty of obtaining reliable information in their home countries. And even if they had been, it would have been impossible to prevent many young Muslims from being attracted to extremist points of view after they arrived even if they were born and raised in Canada as is evidenced by the attraction of Islamist groups like the Islamic State and Al-Shabaab that seem to be proliferating throughout the Islamic world. This is fed by access to radical material and conducts promulgated over the internet and social networks like Facebook and Twitter. The religious inspired desire to fight for Islam and the sense of grievance against the United States and the West for the military interventions in Muslim countries is a very strong motivating factor for young Muslims.

A worrying, and even more puzzling phenomenon, is the extent to which even Canadian converts can become radicalized and become terrorists. People must have very empty alienated lives if they reject their own culture to take up the cause of terrorism. In addition, many Muslim immigrants do not remain in Canada even after getting Canadian citizenship (comparing the census with administrative data suggests that somewhere in the range of twenty to thirty percent of all immigrants do not stay). This means that many young Muslims residing outside Canada and deprived of Canadian moderating influences have Canadian passports, which they can use to their advantage if they become radicalized.

The fact is that Islamic extremism is deeply rooted in the Islamic community, and the larger the community is the more extremists are likely to be produced. This is why European countries which have a proportionately larger Muslim population like the United Kingdom (4.8 per cent), Germany (5.8 per cent), France (7.5 per cent), Belgium (5.9 per cent), Netherlands (6 per cent) and Sweden (5 per cent) have bigger problems with radical Islamic youth than Canada and the United States (Wikipedia, Islam by Country). According to the 2014 Public Report On The Terrorist Threat To Canada, the number of Europeans taking part in the conflict in Syria in 2013 ranged between 1,200 and 2,000.

Statistics Canada has projected that the Muslim population Canada could reach somewhere in the range of 6.3 per cent to 7.3 per cent of the Canadian population by 2031. This would put Canada at the high end of the range where the larger European countries are now and expose it to the same risks they are now facing, including the outbreaks of rampant anti-Semitism as well as domestic terrorism. There is even a risk that mass casualty attacks like those experienced recently in France and Belgium could occur in Canada once a critical mass of disaffected Muslims is reached.

In effect, like many European countries before it, Canada is choosing through its immigration policies and their impact on the dynamics of demographics to internalize the conflicts currently raging throughout the Middle East (including the Israel-Palestine smoldering conflict). And there appears to be no end in sight. The Coalition air attacks on the terrorists in Syria and Iraq herald the opening of another, perhaps more dangerous, battle between radical Islam and the world.

Chart 1

Table 1: Muslim Population of Canada
2001 2011
Number 579,640 1,053,945
Per Cent of Population 2.0 3.2
Growth 81.8

Source: Statistics Canada, Census 2006 and National Household Survery 2011.