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:
- What heightens the risk that violent extremism takes hold and persists in specific groups and not others?
- How do transnational factors (internet, media, markets, diaspora connections, etc.) affect terrorism? In light of global trends, how is terrorism likely to change over time (e.g. connections with other kinds of criminal activity and illicit networks)?
- How do we distinguish between those claiming to subscribe to violent ideologies from the few who will follow through?
- How do we better understand the dynamics of radicalization within the prison system and corrections realm? How do we distinguish among different motivations to join extremist groups, such as group pressure versus true conversion? What are the implications for the management of offenders and for reintegration after time served?
- What is the interplay between different extremist causes, and how should that inform efforts to counter terrorism?
- Is there anything different about violent extremist groups based in Canada versus those in other countries? Are there important contrasts in how they draw support (financial and otherwise), how they organize, and what they aim to achieve?
- Where is the threshold for when views about legitimate expressions of anger and grievance, generally held by a particular group or community, cross from opposition and protest to violence?
- What are the key similarities and differences between counter-terrorism and other law enforcement problems, and how can such lessons better inform current practice?
- How effective are programs designed to intervene with individuals, to deter and/or preempt them from turning to violent means to advance a cause?
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:
- How do people in Canada view threats of terrorism and government efforts to counter it? What are the similarities and differences in how majorities and minorities view these issues?
- How are narratives of threat or grievance taking hold – or not – in different sectors of society, and what role is the media playing?
- How does the contemporary security and media environment shape the sense of belonging, civic engagement and socio-economic integration of Canadian youth?
- Should there be more limits on public expressions of anger or grievance?
- Are there important differences between men and women, as well as among different generations, in perception and action?
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:
- What are the experiences and needs of Canadian communities as regards the stressors of terrorism-related activities, including in the context of efforts to recruit, mobilize or otherwise gain support for violent extremist causes?
- Should a terrorist incident occur that is somehow linked with a specific community, how will Canadian society react, and what steps can be taken to respond while maintaining social cohesion?
- What kinds of pre-existing social divisions should be of most concern? What can be done to address those divisions?
- What are the similarities and differences in individual and collective reactions to terrorist attacks in comparison to public health emergencies or natural disasters? How does the use of conventional versus non-conventional means (e.g. chemical, biological, or radiological weapons) affect relevant individual, group, and social dynamics?
- What strategies or approaches for resilience are being developed within Canadian communities in response to the current threat environment, and how can these efforts best be supported?
- What are appropriate and effective models of partnership between government and communities towards preventing and countering violent extremism?
- What resources or services are most needed to recover from the effects of an incident of terrorism?
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:
- How do we measure the effectiveness of counter-terrorism strategy and practice? What methodologies lend themselves to program evaluation in this context?
- What should we learn from other domains of policy, programming and law? How effective are counter-terrorism exercises towards improving prevention, collaboration, policy and practice?
- What should we learn from the practices and experiences of other countries regarding counter-terrorism strategies, laws and prosecutions, as well as assistance to those most affected by terrorist acts?
- How can we better apply risk-assessment studies and methods to inform counter-terrorism? What measures and methodologies lend themselves to informing transportation security (especially aviation), as well as other areas of critical infrastructure protection, in ways that improve both efficiency and security?
- How can government organizations, with different roles and responsibilities for responding or countering terrorism, work more effectively together for a more comprehensive or holistic approach (e.g. security and justice agencies versus those responsible for immigration and social policy)? What is the appropriate relationship between security and social policy?
- How can the federal government better engage with provincial, territorial and municipal levels of government, as well as community-based organizations?
Kanishka Project News Releases
Air India Flight 182 - Publications and Reports
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