Mitigating the Threat Posed By Canadian Extremist Travellers
Canadian Extremist Travellers (CETs), are individuals suspected of travelling abroad to engage in extremist activity. Extremist activity is defined as any activity undertaken on behalf of, or in support of, a terrorist entity. It can include, but is not limited to: participation in armed combat, financing, radicalizing, recruiting, media production, and other activity.
Offences specifically related to leaving or attempting to leave Canada for the purposes of committing certain terrorism offences are enacted in the Criminal Code.
The threat of extremist travellers is significant and presents difficult challenges to both Canada and our allies. However, the Government of Canada has taken many steps to ensure we are ready to address and mitigate this threat and protect Canadians.
How are Canadians protected from CETs who return to Canada?
Criminal prosecution is a top priority and the preferred course of action in Canada's approach to dealing with returning extremist travelers.
The first objective in dealing with returning extremist travellers is arrest and prosecution to the full extent of the law. If there is sufficient evidence, the Government of Canada will pursue charges. If there is insufficient evidence for a charge, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and its law enforcement, security and intelligence partners will continue their investigation, while other tools are leveraged to manage and mitigate the threat.
These tools include:
- using a terrorism peace bond to have the court place conditions on the individual (including electronic monitoring); active physical surveillance;
- using the Secure Air Travel Act to prevent travel to commit terrorism offences and threats to transportation security; and/or cancelling, refusing or revoking passports.
- In certain circumstances, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) may also employ threat reduction measures to reduce the threat posed by an individual.
Canada's law enforcement, security and intelligence, and defence departments and agencies continue to monitor and respond to the threat of Canadian extremist travellers through a coordinated, whole-of-government approach.
When the Government learns that a CET is seeking to return, federal departments and agencies come together to tailor an approach to address the threat he/she may pose. Key departments and agencies work together to assess risks, develop options and manage the return of CETs.
These agencies are:
- Public Safety Canada,
- Global Affairs Canada (GAC),
- the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP),
- the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS),
- the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC),
- the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces (DND/CAF),
- Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA),
- Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC),
- Transport Canada (TC),
- the Privy Council Office (PCO).
The whole-of-government approach enables the collective identification of measures needed to manage the threat posed by these individuals.
The Government's Operational Response
As Canada's national law enforcement agency, the RCMP has the primary responsibility for investigating national security-related criminal threats in Canada in partnership with intelligence and other law enforcement agencies.
- Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams (INSETs) are specialized, multi-agency units in larger centres. Comprised of federal and provincial partners, INSETS are tasked with the investigation of criminal threats to the national security of Canada.
- National Security Enforcement Sections (NSESs) are located in various provinces across the country. NSES police officers conduct national security criminal investigations and provide specialized expertise for the RCMP's national security-related responsibilities.
The RCMP also works closely with foreign law enforcement partners to address the threat of high-risk travellers and other national security threats.
As Canada’s national security intelligence service, CSIS investigates threat activities of CETs and their potential for return to Canada. CSIS uses all available resources under its mandate, working with partner agencies, including disclosing information to law enforcement organizations in their investigations or prosecutions of CETs and using measures to reduce the threat, when reasonable and proportionate to the nature of the threat.
Another mechanism to address and mitigate the threat of CETs is to prevent individuals from radicalization to violence in the first place. To that end, Public Safety Canada has established the Canada Centre for Community Engagement and the Prevention of Violence (the Canada Centre), which is mandated to lead, support, and coordinate Canada's prevention efforts.
These efforts include local-level programming aimed at countering radicalization to violence. The Canada Centre also funds innovative research, such as the project led by the University of Waterloo to better understand why Canadians travelled to Syria and Iraq to join terrorist groups.
The RCMP has long standing efforts to counter radicalization to violence which encompass all forms of violent ideologies. For instance, the RCMP's First Responder Terrorism Awareness Program provides training for first responders and key partners to promote awareness about a range of criminal threats. The training helps partners identify the early signs of radicalization to violence and outlines possible responses.
Some returning CETs may also be suitable for programs which are designed to help them to disengage from violent extremism. These programs do not replace or prevent our security and law enforcement agencies from doing their work. Rather, these programs complement the work of these agencies by helping to reduce the threat posed by returning extremists travellers, while also addressing the health and social problems of associated travellers, including family members and children, returning from a conflict zone.
These programs are not limited to returning extremist travellers but may also be used forindividuals in Canada who are radicalizing to violence, including right-wing extremists.
Canada's security intelligence agencies work in close cooperation with international partners, including the Five Eyes, the G7, the European Union, Interpol and the United Nations to enhance information sharing and share best practices, while ensuring that information is not disclosed to, or requested from, foreign entities if there is a substantial risk that it could result in mistreatment.
How is the Government made aware when a Canadian extremist traveller is planning a return?
The Government can be made aware of an extremist traveller attempting to return to Canada in many ways, including through Canada's intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies, as well as key international partners such as the Five Eyes and INTERPOL.
Do Canadian extremist travellers have a right to return?
Under section 6 of the Charter, every citizen has the right to "enter" Canada. This is a right of entry if a citizen of Canada presents themselves at a Canadian port of entry. The section 6 right to enter Canada does not obligate the government to intervene to assist Canadians abroad in their efforts to leave a foreign country and return to Canada, except where a citizen needs an emergency passport or other travel document to allow them to return.
Some CETs have admitted, on social media, leaving Canada to join a terrorist organization. Why can’t we prosecute them under the Anti-terrorism Act?
Criminal prosecution is a top priority and the preferred course of action.
National security investigations pose unique and highly complex challenges to law enforcement agencies. These challenges include the need to gather information on an individual's alleged activities in a hostile environment to a standard that can be expected to withstand the rigours of the Canadian justice system.
In instances where charges cannot be laid, all other options to address extremist travellers may be pursued, including: using the Secure Air Travel Act; the cancellation, refusal and revocation of passports; threat reduction measures; and terrorism peace bonds.
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