Violent extremists ‘likely’ infiltrated protests in Ottawa, counter-terrorism agency warned | Canada
Days before the so-called Freedom Convoy reached Ottawa, beginning a week-long occupation of Canada’s capital and unleashing a series of copycat blockades, the federal government was warned that violent extremist groups were deeply involved in the protest movement.
Intelligence assessments – prepared by Canada’s Integrated Terrorism Assessment Center (ITAC) and seen by the Guardian – warned in late January that it was ‘likely’ that extremists were involved and said the scale of protests could still be a “trigger point and opportunity for potential lone attackers to carry out a terrorist attack.”
The assessments offer the first real insight into how federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies have assessed the threat to Canada’s anti-vaccine and conspiratorial movement.
“We knew these people were coming,” said a federal government source, who said the Canadian Security Intelligence Service – Canada’s main intelligence service, of which ITAC is a part – reported the involvement of extremist groups and individuals at official briefings.
Intelligence reports also show that clear warnings were sent to Ottawa police before the convoy arrived in the capital. The city’s police became the subject of fierce debate over whether they should have done more to prepare for or prevent the occupation.
ITAC reported that convoy supporters “advocated civil war”, called for violence against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and said the protest should be “used as Canada’s ‘January 6′”, in reference to the storming of the US Capitol.
In a first report, dated January 27, the ITAC concluded that “a coordinated and complex terrorist attack or a planned storming of Parliament or other federal premises is unlikely”.
But he concluded that the potential for violence remained very real.
“While organizers said it was an act of peaceful protest, some followers of ideologically motivated violent extremism in Canada used the rally to advance their own ideological goals,” the statement said. January. “Extremists and others supporting Covid-19 conspiracy theories and violent anti-authority/anti-government views have expressed their intention to participate in the convoy and attend the accompanying demonstration in Ottawa. “
The assessment warns that protesters, and possible extremists, “could use rudimentary capabilities, such as trucks, cargo and fuel, to disrupt infrastructure.”
Premonitory, the report warns that the return of Parliament on January 31 “could motivate a dedicated group of protesters to extend their demonstration in Ottawa”.
The report includes a meme, which was widely shared at the start of the convoy, which shows a map with a circle surrounding Ottawa and reads: “permanent traffic jam zone until freedom is restored.”
As the occupation entered its second week, the ITAC released another report on February 8.
“All events remained relatively peaceful, with limited low-level conflict,” it read. “However, violent rhetoric online and the physical presence of ideological extremists at some rallies remain a cause for concern.”
The report mentions in particular the figure of QAnon, Romana Didulo, the so-called “Queen of Canada”, who ordered his followers to kill healthcare workers and politicians. She and some of her supporters appeared in Ottawa for the occupation, waving flags representing her supposed kingdom.
ITAC also drew attention to a constellation of other protests across the country, including in Quebec City where “the QAnon flag was seen, and extremist group La Meute said about 100 members participated in the demonstration”. The pack, or The Pack is one of the most visible and influential far-right anti-Islam organizations in Quebec. He also claimed to have sent supporters to the Ottawa protests, according to the report.
In the second report, the ITAC continued to rate the likelihood of a January 6-type insurgency as unlikely, but began to warn that “the most likely ideologically motivated violent extremism-related scenario involves that an individual or small group uses readily available weapons and resources such as knives, firearms, improvised explosives and vehicles in public places against easy targets, including opposition groups or members of the General public.
Earlier this week, during a blockade at the Coutts border crossing in Alberta, police arrested four men and charged them with conspiracy to kill police officers and civilians.
On Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Marco Medicino confirmed that some of those arrested had ties to extremist elements in Ottawa. Some of the men arrested are believed to belong to a loose group known as Diagolon.
ITAC reports are largely based on open source intelligence, i.e. information already available in the public domain, and law enforcement sources – the center does not actively monitor individuals and does not conduct its own investigations.
ITAC’s goal is to provide various levels of local law enforcement with reliable information on emerging threats, said Stephanie Carvin, a former Canadian Security Intelligence Service intelligence analyst who now teaches at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa. .
“They seem to recognize the nature of the event and who is coming to the event,” she said. But, analysts appear to have missed some of the extreme elements of convoy leadership, Carvin said. “It was an extremist-led movement to begin with, and we shouldn’t be surprised that they turned to extremist tactics.”
The ITAC’s warning that only a few dogmatists would brave the Ottawa cold for the return of Parliament on January 31 turned out to be a gross understatement. Yet even this warning went unheeded. The Acting Deputy Chief of the Ottawa Police Service said in early February that they were planning for “a potentially weekend-long protest” and were caught off guard when the convoy pulled up in front of Parliament.
“Was the problem that he didn’t have the information?” Carvin said. “Or was the problem that they just didn’t take white supremacy seriously?”
Carvin said intelligence agencies informed the Canadian government as early as late December of the possible threat posed by the convoy.
“[The protest leaders] were exceptionally clear about what they wanted to do and how they were going to go about it,” she said.