Public Views on the Anti-Terrorism Act (formerly Bill C-36)




3.1.1 Awareness of Pre-9/11 Terrorist Incidents in Canada

Participants were asked if they were aware of any terrorist activities that occurred in Canada prior to September 11, 2001. The FLQ crisis in October 1970 was mentioned by many participants across both age groups and in all cities. In most instances, it was the first thing that came to mind. Group 2 participants, in particular, recalled that "a few people" were abducted and killed during that crisis. Most participants over 40 years old remembered the War Measures Act being invoked and seeing, in real life or in pictures, soldiers marching through the streets of Montreal.

In addition, some participants mentioned the Air India tragedy, which is currently in the headlines because of the ongoing trial related to the bombing of an Air India flight, as well as the arrest of Ahmed Ressam in the United States, a terrorist who was planning to bomb the Los Angeles airport at the turn of the millennium. While the Air India crash did not occur in Canada, many consider it to have a strong Canadian link.

Some participants were not sure how overreaching the definition of 'terrorism' was. In Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax, and Winnipeg, some participants mentioned the shooting deaths of several women at Montreal's École polytechnique by Marc Lepine. Some Group 1 participants in Vancouver and some Group 2 participants in Regina mentioned school bullying and school shootings as being terrorist acts. Some Group 1 participants in Vancouver also mentioned "gang swarming" as constituting an act of terrorism. These participants felt that such acts inflict terror on school grounds and in neighbourhoods.

The Hell's Angels were also mentioned by participants in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Montreal, Quebec City, Regina, and Vancouver as being a potential terrorist group. Again, some participants were unsure as to the exact definition of what a terrorist or terrorist activity was, but felt that the Hell's Angels could be considered terrorists.

Terrorists are people who mean something bad. It's not just religious. It's a group of people who are dead set against a certain situation or type of people. Like the Hell's Angels, for example, who do bad things and seek control over money. (Quebec City, Group 2)

A few participants in the Montreal, Quebec City, and Vancouver groups mentioned the Oka crisis involving the Mohawks' right to land as an act resembling a terrorist incident inside Canada.

Some participants were of the opinion that although Canada's history shows a relatively low incidence of terrorist attacks within its borders, Canada is perceived by terrorists as a "safe haven" or as a "gateway" to other countries, such as the United States.

Although the examples above demonstrate that participants were aware of some terrorist incidents that have occurred on Canadian soil, many participants had to think about it for a while before coming up with examples (except in the case of the October Crisis).

3.1.2 Awareness of Terrorist Incidents outside Canada Post-9/11

All participants, across both age groups and in all cities, were aware of at least one terrorist incident that had occurred outside of Canada since September 11, 2001. Many participants mentioned that they were aware of terrorist incidents occurring almost daily in the Middle East (in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel). They were specifically aware of suicide bombings and attacks on coalition troops and embassies. Generally, terrorism outside of Canada since September 11, 2001, was associated with the Middle East.

Every week, there seems to be a terrorist event somewhere. That was not the case before September 11. It's almost daily. (Montreal, French Group 2)

Some participants mentioned the bombing in Bali, the Moscow theatre incident, and the subway bombing in Paris. A few participants in the Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City groups mentioned the Washington D.C. snipers and the anthrax scare that gripped the American capital after September 11, 2001. The Oklahoma City bombing was mentioned by a few participants; however, they were reminded that the incident had occurred prior to September 11, 2001.

A few participants in both Vancouver groups and in Montreal and Ottawa were aware of the "shoe bomber" who was detained after trying to set off a bomb on an airplane bound for the United States from England.

A lot. Daily in Iraq. The man with the shoe on British Airways. Turkey. Every week in Israel. (Montreal, French Group 2)

Some participants had trouble defining terrorism; hence, in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, and Halifax, some participants mentioned the IRA as a potential terrorist group. Group 1 participants in Halifax and Quebec City initially indicated that, in their opinion, George Bush and the American army should be considered terrorists for their actions in the Middle East (i.e. the war in Iraq).

Participants appeared to find it easier to name terrorist incidents that occurred outside Canada since September 11, 2001, than to name those that had occurred on Canadian soil prior to that date. This is likely due to the high volume of incidents outside Canada and to the media coverage devoted to these incidents. However, in many instances, recollection of these incidents was rather vague.

There was a hotel targeted for an attack in Africa, but I don't remember in which country. (Ottawa, French Group 1)

It happens daily, so you are almost insensitive to it. It's like: "OK. Another bomb. Another place." It doesn't hit close to home, which is unfortunate because I have friends who are from the Middle East and it does hit home for them. (Ottawa, English Group 1)

3.1.3 Likelihood of a Terrorist Attack in Canada

When participants were asked about the possibility that Canada would suffer from a terrorist attack within two years, the general consensus was that it was unlikely, if not very unlikely. A few participants thought that "anything is possible" in this day and age. They did not think that an attack was likely or imminent, but they felt that something could happen.

Participants gave the following main reasons why they felt that an attack was unlikely: Canada's reputation as a peaceful and peacekeeping country; the Government of Canada's refusal to join the United States in the war against Iraq; and Canada's relative lack of strategic importance to would-be terrorists. That is, some participants felt that terrorists would not have a lot to gain by attacking Canada, since it is perceived as being neutral on the issue of war and generally "flies under the radar," which makes it an unlikely terrorist target.

When people spoke of terrorist activities in this context, they referred mainly, if not exclusively to activities by extremist individuals from the Middle East, especially given the events of September 11, 2001.

A few of the English-speaking participants in Montreal expressed the view that the main risk, albeit comparatively small, might stem from extreme separatists; they referred to a group that was accused of bomb attacks against Starbucks coffee shops a few years ago, following Starbucks' refusal to display their store name in French.

With another referendum, Quebec vs. Canada, that's a possibility (the triggering of terrorist activities). (Montreal, English Group 2)

In general, French-speaking participants in both Montreal and Quebec City were even less likely than English-speaking participants to believe in the likelihood of an attack in Canada by foreign terrorists. Some Vancouver participants in both groups felt that the Olympic games of 2010 (which are to be held in Vancouver) might provide an opportunity for a terrorist attack, although these participants did not think that Canada or Canadians would be the primary target of the attack. Rather, they see the Vancouver Olympics as the potential setting for an attack by terrorist groups against another nation, possibly the United States.

Among participants in Ontario, Halifax, and the Western provinces, opinions on whether Canada is likely to be a target of terrorism were divided. Some participants felt that "anything is possible" in the times we live in, especially given the events of September 11, 2001. These participants felt that terrorists may attack Canada to "send a message" to the United States and other coalition countries.

Some claimed that although Canada itself was unlikely to be a terrorist target, it was not out of the question that terrorists might use Canada as a base or a "stepping stone" to enter and attack the United States, along the lines of the Ahmed Ressam situation.

However, some participants were concerned that if the new federal government headed by Paul Martin were to align Canada more closely with the United States in terms of its foreign policy, as several surmised would be the case, then the likelihood of a terrorist attack against Canada might increase. The feeling among these participants was that as long as Canada is not seen as overtly aligned with the United States, it will be safe from terrorist attacks, as the United States is considered to be a key target, if not the primary target, of terrorists.

A few participants felt that Canada could be a target because, in their opinion, Canada has not taken strong enough safety measures to protect itself. More specifically, a few Group 2 participants in Halifax, Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City see Canada's security measures as being weak; they consider that there are little to no defences in place should terrorists choose to attack Canada.

In addition, a few participants felt that, as terrorists have hidden inside Canada in the past, an attack on Canada could easily be carried out. Other participants refuted this likelihood, as they felt that terrorists would not want to jeopardize the possibility they have of continuing to use Canada as a hiding place or staging area.

Other participants refuted outright the notion that Canada has been a "stepping stone" or "breeding ground" for terrorists.

A few younger participants in Halifax said that, given the relative ease with which the United States entered into Iraq and attacked it and the fact that they ignored the United Nations, they could see the United States entering into Canada in the event of a conflict between our two nations.

Participants in smaller cities like Regina or Halifax said that they could see Ottawa or Toronto being a target rather than their own cities, because of the larger size of those cities and the political and financial targets located there.

Some participants in Calgary, Regina, and Vancouver referred to a newspaper article that reported that Ottawa was a target of terrorist attacks, and they expressed the view that Canada could very well be a future terrorist target.

Somewhat likely. Ottawa was a target. (Regina, Group 2)

Date modified: