On October 20, 2014, 25-year-old Martin Couture-Rouleau slammed his car into a group of soldiers in the parking lot of a Canada shopping center in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, killing two. In the pursuit that followed, he was shot and killed when he got out of his wrecked car and brandished a knife. Then two days later Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, age 32, shot and killed a reservist standing guard at the war memorial in Ottawa. He then quickly made his way to the Parliament, storming in with rifle in hand. One staffer managed to push the barrel down, suffering a shot in the foot. Then during a firefight, the sergeant-at-arms shot and killed him. Members of Parliament were cowering behind barricaded doors during the attack.
The two men had some things in common. Both were converts to Islam in an extreme form. Both, Zehaf-Bibeau more than Couture-Rouleau, had mental health, petty criminal, and substance abuse problems. Zehaf-Bibeau sometimes committed crimes in the hope that he might shake his addictions while in jail.
Couture-Rouleau converted in 2013, while Zehaf-Bibeau said, in one version, that his conversion occurred seven years ago. He was raised as a Catholic. His parents are divorced. Zehaf-Bibeau’s father is at least nominally Muslim. He owned a bar and other property in Montreal. The son’s Islam appears to be at least somewhat influenced by Evangelical Christianity. He told people in the homeless shelter where he was staying that they should pray five times a day because we are living in the end-times. Both men were lone wolves, not affiliated with any group, though the Islamic State was happy to claim them.
Muslims in Canada have generally been horrified by the acts of this pair of converts. Zehaf-Bibeau disrupted services in the al-Salaam Mosque in Burnaby, British Columbia, because he did not like the mosque’s interfaith outreach. They told him to go elsewhere. In Ottawa a group of imams and other Muslims carried a wreath to the war memorial to express condolences for the death of the reservist who was shot and killed. One imam pointed out to the reporter from the Ottawa Citizen that in 2005, 120 Canadian imams issued a declaration condemning terrorism.
Like the United States, Canada has had its share of fanatical killers. In 2012 Richard Henry Bain, an English-speaking Quebecer who feels repressed by his French-speaking counterparts, shot and killed a guard at a convention of the separatist Parti Québécois. On June 4, 2014, Justin Bourque, whose views mirror those of right-wing U.S. survivalists, shot five Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers in Moncton, New Brunswick, killing three of them. Muslim extremists in Canada have done far less damage than other extremists have.
The actions of these two converts are leading the Conservative government to introduce new anti-terrorist legislation, this despite the fact that provisions that they are considering already exist as part of an anti-cyberbullying bill. For example, the bill provides for greater cooperation with foreign intelligence organizations and increased powers of surveillance. Incidentally, that bill has been criticized by the Canadian Bar Association, opposition parties, and the Canadian Privacy Commissioner as being overly intrusive.
There are other kinds of measures that have been proposed to deal with the problem. For example, it has been argued that there should be a common command structure for security on Parliament Hill, where there are now four separate security forces. Justice John Major, who headed the Air India bombing inquiry in 1985, proposed in his report that there should be a single national security advisor. Alex Neve, of Amnesty International, called for better oversight of security operations, citing the case of Canadian Maher Arar, falsely labeled as a militant extremist and transferred from the United States to torture in Syria. Then there was the incident in 1972 when the RCMP burned down a barn in Quebec because they thought that there was to be a meeting there between Quebec separatists and members of the U.S. Black Panthers.
In any case, it is extremely difficult to stop lone-wolf terrorists before they act. And when Muslim extremists are caught and imprisoned, the Conservative government is giving their reformation less-than-adequate attention. Imam Yasin Dwyer, who was a full-time prison chaplain, developed a program to aid in rehabilitation. He resigned from his position because the government put the chaplaincy out to competitive bidding.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay is toying with the idea of making it illegal to glorify terrorism. Such a law might prove embarrassing for his government. Prime Minister Stephen Harper took a large group of rabbis and others with him on an official visit to Israel. One person was a member of the Jewish Defense League, listed by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization that has promoted murders and attempted murders in the United States. In Israel, Baruch Goldstein, a member, slaughtered Muslim worshippers in Hebron. If Jewish Defense League members go to his shrine or in other ways glorify him, would they be prosecuted?
In apparent reaction to the killings, mosques have been vandalized. A man was caught on camera on October 29, 2014, smashing windows in an Ottawa mosque. In Cold Lake, Alberta, someone smashed windows and painted slogans on the outer wall, telling Muslims to go home. In response, a business owner in town put a sign in his window: “Love thy neighbor.”
Over the November 8, 2014, weekend, there were four attacks on Quebec mosques, three in and around Quebec City. Someone plastered posters on the front doors of the three mosques with an inscription that roughly translates, “Islam, out of my Quebec.” They were signed by “Québec Identitaire,” Quebec Identity. The fourth incident occurred at the Centre Culturel al-Imane, in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, the town where Couture-Rouleau drove his car into the soldiers. Someone threw a rock through a window.
There are other ways than what MacKay proposes to respond to Muslim extremists. Three Muslim university students in Ottawa are producing a YouTube program ridiculing the Islamic State (otherwise known as ISIS). Their program has viewers in Canada and in the Arab world. Then there is the pungent advice of Wesley Wark, a Canadian expert on intelligence and security: “Take a deep breath and practice normalcy.”
Author: Reuel S. Amdur
Reuel Amdur writes from Val-des-Monts, Quebec, Canada.