Overview: Canada’s National Terrorism Threat Level remained at “Medium” through 2021, meaning a violent act of terrorism could occur.
The February Roadmap for a Renewed U.S.-Canada Partnership committed to enhancing bilateral cooperation to counter exploitation of social media and the internet by terrorists, violent extremists, and hate groups; strengthening information sharing related to domestic violent extremism (DVE); and enhancing reciprocal sharing on known and suspected threats.
The Public Safety Canada (PS)-U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)-led DVE Working Group began developing a joint threat assessment on DVE connectivity between the neighboring countries, including a comparison of respective designation and listings processes. Additionally, PS’s Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence continued its close collaboration with its U.S. counterpart, DHS’s Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships, on initiatives to prevent and counter radicalization to violence, including online.
2021 Terrorist Incidents: On June 6, Canadian citizen Nathaniel Veltman allegedly rammed a truck into Muslim Pakistani Canadian pedestrians in London, Ontario, killing four persons and wounding one — all members of the same family. The attack was allegedly motivated at least in part by Islamophobia. London Police Service (LPS) charged Veltman with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. LPS, working in conjunction with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Ministry of the Attorney General, and Canada’s Public Prosecution Service, determined the murders constituted terrorist activity under Canadian law. The Federal and Provincial Attorneys General commenced terrorism proceedings, alleging the murders and the attempted murder also constituted terrorist activity.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Canada’s strict privacy laws continued to limit counterterrorism-related intelligence sharing among Canada’s law enforcement agencies, and between Canada and other countries, including the United States.
Although Canada’s Criminal Code includes sections on terrorist activities, prosecutors have limited their pursuit of charges under these statutes because the legal bar is high and cases have raised complex questions of potentially overlapping offenses. Prosecutors typically choose to pursue more-straightforward charges against those suspected of terrorist activities (e.g., murder), a trend that continued in 2021.
Canada continued to resist repatriation of FTFs and their family members from Syria, asserting it was unable to send staff to assist owing to the security situation within Syria. In 2021, former U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith facilitated the return to Canada of a woman and her minor daughter from a camp for displaced persons affiliated with ISIS in Syria via Iraq. Galbraith said his effort was a private initiative; the Canadian government indicated it was not involved in the pair’s exit from Syria.
In 2021, there were developments in ongoing legal proceedings with a terror nexus:
- On May 20, Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice ruled Iran’s shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in 2020 was an intentional act of terrorism. Fifty-five Canadian citizens and 30 Canadian permanent residents were among the victims.
- On August 26, Canadian citizen Saad Akhtar pleaded guilty to charges of murder and terrorism following his 2020 killing of a woman in Toronto. A note that Akhtar placed beside his victim included an ISIS slogan and said the murder was committed in service to ISIS. The case marked Canada’s first conviction for the crime of “murder — terrorist activity.” Akhtar was sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for 25 years.
- Following his guilty plea on weapons charges in June, Patrik Mathews, a former Canadian Armed Forces reservist and member of violent white supremacist group The Base, was sentenced October 28, in U.S. federal court, to nine years in prison for his role in a neo-Nazi plot to instigate a race war in the United States. Federal prosecutors successfully argued for a “terrorism enhancement” of Mathews’s sentence, asserting he promoted a federal crime of terrorism even though he himself was not charged with terrorism.
- On December 10, Saudi-born Canadian citizen Mohammed Khalifa, a leading ISIS media figure and FTF, pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court to conspiring to provide material support to an FTO (ISIS), resulting in death.
- Two applications for peace bonds were made in 2021 pursuant to Section 810.011 of Canada’s Criminal Code (“Fear of Terrorism Offence”); these were still before the court at year’s end, and the individuals involved had not been charged with an offense. The individuals’ names and identifying information were withheld; one was a minor, and the other’s identity was protected by a publication ban.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Canada is a member of FATF and the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering. Canada’s FIU, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre (known as FINTRAC), is a member of the Egmont Group. On June 1, several amendments to regulations under Canada’s Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act entered into force, significantly overhauling Canada’s related regulatory landscape and closing gaps in the existing framework, such as those stemming from technological advances (e.g., cryptocurrencies).
Countering Violent Extremism: The Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence continued its work to develop related policy and on partner/stakeholder engagement and coordination, research, and programming. It also administered the Community Resilience Fund, a grants and contributions program that provides financial support to organizations working to improve Canada’s understanding of — and capacity to prevent and counter — violent extremism. In 2021, Canada continued its financial support to and was a board member of the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, a multilateral organization that funds local programs to prevent and counter violent extremism.
International and Regional Cooperation: In 2021, Canada continued its term as co-chair of the GCTF and was active in the development and finalization of GCTF’s Strategic Vision for the Next Decade, endorsed by ministers in October. The country also is a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum. Canada was an active participant in the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Stabilization, Counter-ISIS Financing, Foreign Terrorist Financing, and Communications working groups.
In May, the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate conducted a hybrid visit to Canada on behalf of the Counterterrorism Committee.