THREE THEMES

Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society

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TSAS’s research program is grouped around three major themes:

Terrorism

Exploring the core process of radicalization that lead to violence and terrorism, especially in terms of the new challenges posed by home-grown terrorism, lone actor terrorism, and foreign terrorist fighters. Learn more

Security Responses

Analyzing the nature, functioning and effectiveness of the responses to the threat of terrorism and violent extremism. Learn more

Society

Understanding the effects of securitization and terrorism on communities, as well as the group level dynamics that may render communities vulnerable to violent extremism or resilient to it. Learn more

TSAS was created out of the pressing need to develop a better understanding of the causes, nature, and consequences of home-grown terrorism. TSAS is dedicated to exploring:

  1. the processes of terrorist radicalization
  2. the security response and
  3. relevant developments within affected communities and civil society

We investigate each of these issues in detail, but also—critically—and the ways in which they intersect. TSAS is dedicated to facilitating dialogue between researchers and policy officials around the processes that connect terrorism, security, and society. Our Three Themes (Terrorism, Security, and Society) also correspond to Five Research Areas for TSAS (Terrorism and Violent Extremism, Radicalization, Security and Counterterrorism, Countering Violent Extremism, Societal Impact and Consequences).

Terrorism

Other nations have borne the brunt of the latest terrorist threats more than Canada. With the notable exception of the bombing of Air India flight #182 in 1985, we have yet to experience a mass casualty attack. Yet many have been prosecuted for terrorism offenses in Canada and about 180 (2016) Canadians have travelled abroad to participate in various terrorist activities. For Canadians, as well as elsewhere, the burning question is why would our own citizens turn against us with such deadly intent and force? These symbolic and real attacks on the core values and institutions of our society, by our own citizens, are strange and unsettling.

Since the tragic events of 9/11 research into terrorism, and the process of radicalization by which people become terrorists, has expanded exponentially. Much has been learned and diverse models of the process of radicalization have been framed. Yet as is widely recognized , the acquisition of reliable knowledge has been handicapped by a number of interrelated problems, including:

  1. the lack of appropriate primary data
  2. difficulty coping with the heterogeneity of types of terrorism
  3. difficulty explaining why so few people revert to terrorism when many people share the experiences associated with its onset, and
  4. disagreements over the nature, relative significance, and implications of the political, religious, socio-economic, and other motivations for terrorism

TSAS seeks to encourage, guide, and support original Canadian research into extremism and terrorist activity, and even more the process of radicalization leading to violence, in ways that will address and help to overcome these limitations and lay the foundations for a more sound and effective Canadian response to terrorism and its consequences. To this end we advocate taking a more sophisticated, comprehensive, multidisciplinary, and comparative approach, one which better utilizes, develops, and integrates  the findings of political science, sociology, criminology, social-psychology, psychology, history and religious studies. But also research that takes into consideration the policy needs and objectives of the Canadian government.

Canadian Incident Database (CIDB)

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TSAS has developed a publicly-accessible database describing terrorism and violent extremism since 1960 with a Canadian connection. 

Security Responses

There is a wide range of policy responses to terrorism, from traditional law enforcement measures to military interventions, the creation of tougher laws and security measures, and community outreach and countering violent extremism programs. However, few of these initiatives have been systematically evaluated, and the evidence available is mixed. Some efforts correspond with declines in terrorist incidents, but in many instances the impact appears to be minimal  or highly dependent on  a range of measures working in combination with each other. In addition, certain activities can be counter-productive, actually heightening the cohesion of terrorist groups, or straining relationships with the  communities governments need to work in partnership with. The nature, functioning, and effectiveness of the responses to the threat of terrorism need to be analyzed more rigorously, with an eye for the specific Canadian context.

Counter terrorism policies must take into account scientific evidence; past successes and failures, in Canada and abroad; as well as the complexity and variety of ways in which terrorist radicalization and violence may occur. At the same time, security responses will fail if they do not account for the impact they may have on communities or wider society. Examining how best to balance our security needs with the preservation of our civil liberties and social cohesion  requires the combined efforts of a diverse set of researchers using a far-ranging set of methodologies, in many academic disciplines.

Society

The demography of Canada is changing rapidly, through reduced fertility, ageing, and of course a significant immigration program that brings more and more ethno-cultural diversity to the country. Statistics Canada informs us that roughly 30 percent of the Canadian population will identify as members of a visible minority in 2031, and the degree of religious diversity will be equally profound. There also are more temporary residents in Canada than ever before, and this trend is unlikely to change. In the United Kingdom the term ‘superdiversity’ was introduced to help make sense of the growing variegation of society and the term applies equally well to large cities in Canada. Canadian researchers have documented and explored these changes and their implications for a wide array of social issues. A number of worrying trends have been discovered, notably the socio-economic marginalization of certain groups, possible inter-generational downward mobility, and the growth of criminal/criminalized youth sub-cultures.

Unfortunately, most of this work has been conducted without a sustained conversation with scholars studying terrorism and security issues, and most security and terrorism experts lack a sufficient understanding of life in the communities from which many extremists emerge. TSAS provides a platform for this type of conversation to occur. Several themes animate research in the general ‘Society’ area of TSAS, notably: the relationship between the socio-economic circumstances of vulnerable groups and the radicalization of elements of those communities; the importation of ethno-religious, nationalist, and other conflicts to Canada; approaches to building collaborative relationships with relevant ethno-cultural and religious communities to enhance security; the consequences of securitization for minority communities; and the potential for right-wing extremism motivated by anti-immigrant and/or racist sentiments.