Homegrown terrorism in Canada has once again hit the headlines due to the growing fear of groups such as ISIS and renewed interest from Canadian policymakers.

In October 2014, Canadian Minister of Public Safety Steven Blaney, alongside RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson and CSIS Director Michel Coulombe, appeared in front of the House of Commons’ National Security Committee.

Coulombe said that CSIS is aware of 130 to 145 Canadians who have been involved with terrorist groups in Arab countries, of whom about 80 returned to Canada.

The federal government has now commissioned five studies on the issue. How should Canada respond to the homegrown terrorism threat?

Homegrown terrorism in Canada

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute has extensively researched the threat that homegrown terrorism poses to national security.

In 2011, MLI Senior Fellow Alex Wilner published a paper that examined in detail the risk that radicalization in Canadian prisons poses.

European countries have for years had problems with “Islamist radicals spreading militant, politically violent interpretations of their religion among the general prison population”, Wilner wrote in an op-ed for the Globe and Mail.

Canada, he writes, cannot afford to be complacent.

Understanding prison populations

Wilner’s paper, titled “From Rehabilitation to Recruitment”, offers several recommendations for combating the spread of terrorism within prisons.

This includes isolating recruiters, denying extremists access to prisoners, and excluding radical religious service providers and extremist texts from prison.

He also calls for familiarizing prison staff with radicalization, ensuring that perceptions of discrimination that sustain radical beliefs are stamped out within the prison system, and establishing a de-radicalization strategy that can help Canadian terrorists disengage from violence and properly reintegrate into society.

“Ensuring Canadian prisons are institutions of rehabilitation and not radicalization is neither easy nor simple”, Wilner wrote in his Globe op-ed. “But it won't get easier if we ignore the problem until it becomes a serious national security concern”.

Wilner gave testimony to the Special Senate Committee on Anti-Terrorism in 2010. He also spoke to several media outlets about his work.

MLI’s research on counterterrorism

Wilner has also written extensively on the issue of counterterrorism more broadly.

In July 2014 he wrote an op-ed for Vanguard Magazine explaining why counterrorism efforts should reflect the reality that the War on Terror is not going to end with an armistice.

He also wrote a piece for the Ottawa Citizen explaining the unique challenges of counterterrorism.