Amid the celebrations and fireworks Monday, Victoria suddenly found itself joined to the rarefied club of Canadian cities targeted for a high-profile terrorist attack.
If the suspects had slipped under the radar and detonated pressure-cooker bombs outside the legislature during Canada Day celebrations, it could have been the worst terrorist attack in history on Canadian soil.
Instead, the B.C. RCMP were able to announce two arrests – John Nuttall, a Surrey man (and former Victoria resident) with a significant criminal rap sheet, and Amanda Korody, his partner. RCMP assert both of these Canadian born-and-raised suspects were “self-radicalized” by al-Qaida influence.
Nuttall has been in and out of Victoria’s courts regularly for assaults, robberies, mischief and possessing weapons. In media articles, he was described as a former drug addict and a violent enforcer when it came to collecting drug debts. He’s also described as a recent convert to Islam.
Whether this pair tried to copycat the pressure-cooker Boston bombings, were angry anti-government types, or were interested in promoting an Islamic caliphate in line with al-Qaida goals (or none of the above), the fact their alleged plot was identified, infiltrated and hijacked by RCMP agents is a testament to why Canada needs intelligence agencies.
Organizations like the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), which tipped off the provincial RCMP to the plot, and RCMP anti-terrorism departments, almost always operate behind the scenes to ferret out domestic terrorism.
It’s hard to know how many credible terror plots have been halted in Canada. Beyond oil pipeline bombings in the past, police and intelligence agencies have quashed an alleged plot to blow up a Via passenger train between Toronto and New York by two foreign men who supposedly received guidance from al-Qaida agents; and the so-called “Toronto 18,” (11 were convicted) a group of young Muslim men who plotted to blow up targets across southern Ontario with fertilizer bombs.
The foiled Victoria bombing can be seen as a wake-up call to Canadians that terrorism is a reality in this country, and as analysts have predicted, attacks on civilians are not an “if” but a “when.”
This is also an opportunity for a national conversation on the bounds of domestic surveillance – what will people tolerate to ensure agencies have the resources to keep Canadians safe?