The growth of Islamic radicalization in Canada poses an increasing threat to national security. This report attempts to measure differences in the radicalization process in Canada and to highlight the diverse nature of this threat. It will also present case studies of those Canadians who have turned to radical Islam and attempted to, or succeeded in, carrying out violent acts based on extremist interpretations of Islam. By presenting case studies of radicalized Canadians, this report will show both common and divergent trends in the examples of this varied process, as well as the role of radicalizing influences and common beliefs. This report will deliver an in-depth picture of the threat Islamic radicalization poses to Canada, and recount the successful means by which this threat has been countered in the past.
This report also aims to provide a socio-economic profile of the Muslim Canadian population, compiled primarily from Canadian census data and think-tank research.
Canada’s Muslim community makes up an estimated 3.2% of the country’s total population. Islam is the fastest growing religion in Canada. The growth of the Muslim Canadian population is driven predominantly by immigration; Pakistan and Iran rank 5th and 7th on the top 10 list of immigrant arrivals to Canada. Much like non-Muslim immigrants to Canada, a majority of the Muslim immigrants settle in Canada’s major cities. The three largest Muslim Canadian communities are located in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, respectively. With a median age of 28, the Islamic community is also the youngest religious community in Canada.
Muslim Canadians are represented by numerous organizations and institutions. There are 67 Mosques across Canada. The largest Canadian Mosque was constructed in 2005 by the Ahmaddiya community in Calgary, Alberta. Ontario has the largest number of Mosques, with 31 in total located in that province. Organizations representing Muslim Canadians are generally liberal. Despite this, many favour increased integration with the non-Muslim Canadian population. Some organizations, including The Islamic Circle of North America promote cross-border interaction with the American Muslim population.
Since 2006, Canadian security forces have stopped four domestic Islamic extremist terror plots. Combined, 25 individuals were responsible for planning these attacks. Roughly 1/3rd of them were born in Canada.
Canada has also increasingly exported Jihadists to foreign battlefields. Negative views of Canadian involvement in Afghanistan and support for U.S. foreign policy provide common grievances that are often cited as radicalizing influences.
Some of the case studies presented in this paper feature recent converts to Islam, many of whom were born in Canada. Furthermore, some of the Islamist extremists chronicled are of an ethnic background not commonly associated with such radicals. Rather than presenting a detailed analysis of linked experiences in the radicalizing process, this report will highlight the extremely varied and heterogeneous pathways to extremism.
Of importance in this analysis is the growing interaction between Muslim Canadian community leaders and Canadian security forces. Early notifications of radical behaviour and intelligence sharing have resulted in arrests being made prior to deadly attacks. Such a positive relationship reaffirms the necessity for Muslim community leaders to play a central role in combating Islamic extremism.
Despite the growth of this positive relationship between some members of the Muslim community and security forces, other radical community leaders and centers remain. At least two Canadian Mosques have been described as centers of radicalization by Canadian and U.S. officials alike. Surveys also indicate that a minority of the Muslim Canadian population has supported both al-Qaeda linked ideologies in the past as well as members of the Toronto 18 terror cell that attempted to attack three prominent targets within the Greater Toronto Area in 2006. While a significant majority of the Muslim Canadian population rejects all ties to extremism and radicalization, the risk of radicalization within the Muslim Canadian population remains a pressing concern.