TSAS’s research program is grouped around three core thematic areas:
- Terrorism– exploring the core process of radicalization that leads to violence and terrorism, especially in terms of the new challenges posed by home-grown terrorism.
- Security Responses– analyzing the nature, functioning and effectiveness of the responses to the threat of terrorism.
- Society– Security Issues and the Community – understanding the effects of securitization and terrorist acts on communities, as well as the group level dynamics that may render communities vulnerable to or resilient from terrorist tactics.
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: i) processes of terrorist radicalization, ii) the security response and iii) relevant developments within the affected communities and civil society. We investigate each of these issues in detail, but also—critically—the ways in which they intersect. This is a new approach in Canadian scholarship, since until now researchers have tended to focus on only one of these areas of concern. TSAS is dedicated to facilitating dialogue between researchers and policy officials around the processes that connect terrorism, security, and society.
As recent events demonstrate (e.g., the bombing of Air India flight #182; the “Toronto 18” case; two young Canadian men who became terrorists and died in the attack on the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria, the attack in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and the Ottawa shooting) Canada is not exempt, regrettably, from the threat posed by the radicalization leading to “homegrown” terrorism or the “foreign fighter” problem. The threat is troubling, not only because of the potential loss of life, property, and personal freedoms, but also because of the damage done to our collective perception of Canada as a safe, harmonious, and multicultural society. The spectre of so-called “homegrown” terrorism brings the “why” question sharply to the fore. Why would citizens of our own countries turn against us with such deadly intent and force? Why would Canadians wants to travel to so far away to fight and die with terrorist groups? Such symbolic and real attacks on the very core values and institutions of one’s society, by citizens of the society, are a strange and unsettling development.
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 there is a growing consensus that the acquisition of reliable knowledge has been handicapped by a number of interrelated problems, including: (i) the lack of appropriate primary data, (ii) difficulty coping with the heterogeneity of types of terrorism, (iii) difficulty explaining why so few people revert to terrorism when many people share the experiences associated with its onset, and (iv) disagreements over the nature, relative significance, and implications of the political, religious, 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 the taking a more sophisticated, comprehensive, multidisciplinary, and comparative approach, one which better utilizes, develops, and integrates the broader findings of 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.
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 counter 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 in isolation or highly dependent on an overall strategy of a range of measures in combination with each other. In addition, certain activities can be counter-productive, actually heightening the cohesion of terrorist groups, or straining relationships with certain communities. 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. A pressing question is whether the amount of resources invested, and the nature of the current response matches the size and nature of the threat – what does a coherent security response to the threat of terrorist radicalization look like? The question is simple enough as formulated, but it is fundamental to the field. Answering it requires the combined efforts of a diverse set of researchers using a far-ranging set of methodologies, in just as many academic disciplines. TSAS proposes to be the converging point of previously unconnected efforts.
Society: Security Issues and the Community
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 build 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.