Kanishka Project Research Themes

The Kanishka Project is about better understanding what terrorism means in the Canadian context today, how that meaning is changing over time, and what we can do to support appropriate and effective policies, programs and laws for Canada.

The Kanishka Project is also to build a stronger, multidisciplinary community of scholarship in Canada, to improve public understanding of terrorism and counter-terrorism, and also to support deeper dialogue between researchers and government on what knowledge is needed and why. 

Since the bombing of Air India Flight 182 in 1985, and especially following September 11, 2001, Canada's security and intelligence system has evolved significantly, with changes to operational policies, training, laws, and the machinery of government.  The following themes are to provide guidance towards addressing relevant gaps in research with the goal of producing useful tools for front line individuals (for example: police, lawyers, judges, members of the intelligence community, etc.).  Ultimately, the first three themes (Ideological extremism and violence; Perception and emotion; and Collective dynamics and resilience) will determine direction for the research, while the fourth theme (Organization and effectiveness) will be used to produce tangible tools that are needed for front line personnel to be more effective in their respective roles.

Ideological extremism and violence

Currently, a prominent threat facing Canada's national security (and similarly, that of many countries) is radicalization leading to violence, including homegrown violent extremism.  What makes this issue particularly difficult to understand is that there is no single profile of an individual who may be vulnerable to recruitment or is likely to engage in ideological violence.  Cases in Canada show that violent extremists come from a variety of racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, regional and socio-economic backgrounds, and that there can be a strong global dimension connecting to broader movements or outside organizations.

The picture is clearly complex, but patterns exist: when and how groups form, how they evolve and gain or lose support (from financial to moral), when and why individuals and groups turn violent, and so on.  Much is left to do, however, to determine which patterns are relevant in a particular context.  It is no easy task: the factors commonly linked with terrorism – ideological extremism, grievance and moral outrage, conflict over identity issues – do arise, but only rarely translate into violence. Some key questions include:

Perception and emotion

The potential impact on society of perceptions about security can be profound and long-lasting.  The word terrorism is itself an emotionally-charged term, and the effects of how it is reported in the media and other forms of public communication can escalate or calm tensions as well as reinforce or correct misperceptions. Moreover, common views about terrorism and national security are heavily shaped by global as well as local events, and the past can weigh heavily on the present.  Events such as the Air India bombing or the attacks of September 11, 2001, are rare, but continue to shape thought and action regarding national security over time.  In this context, the following questions are relevant:

Collective dynamics and resilience

Terrorist incidents are by design traumatic.  Beyond the losses to human life and property, is the possible damage to the social fabric, through fear, suspicion, hatred, or even the turning of one community against another.  There is a need to better understand the inter- and intra-group dynamics at play, as during efforts to inspire or gain support for politically- and ideologically-motivated violence, as well as in the aftermath of an attack.  In this context, resilience is the capacity to react to inflammatory actions and events in ways that prevent further harm and, where possible, for society to emerge from such trials better able to manage future similar stressors.  All the while maintaining rights, freedoms, the rule of law, as well as preserving Canada's open, democratic, multicultural society.  Areas in need of further research include:

Organization and effectiveness

Contemporary counter-terrorism touches on the mandates of a range of organizations, from intelligence and law enforcement, to courts and corrections.  Further, given the complex nature of the threat environment and of potential repercussions of an attack, other relevant policy areas can include education, banking and finance, labour market support, and integration of new immigrant populations, as well as foreign and defence policy.  In other words, effective counter-terrorism requires not only the consideration of the threats, vulnerabilities and potential effects across social, economic and security domains, but a thorough understanding both of the relevant actors and what roles they can or do play. 

Adding to this organizational complexity is the fact that a rare but high-consequence phenomenon like a terrorist attack is by nature more difficult to study – to determine the nature of the risks involved and therefore how to effectively address them – than more regularly-occurring events or problems.  Further, the history of terrorism is one of change: tactics, targets and methods change, with groups that come and go, often with little lasting effect.  Some key knowledge gaps include:

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