Currently Funded Projects

1. Exploring the Reporting Of Suspected Terrorist Financing in Real Estate Transactions in Western Canada

Key Researcher: Sandra Bucerius, University of Alberta
This pilot project explores the process of reporting suspicious transactions related to terrorist financing in Canadian real estate markets. Scholars and policy makers hold that stable and profitable real estate markets are attractive to financiers of terrorism or and organized crime groups (Schneider, 2004; van Duyne, 2003), and that such investment threatens local and national economies. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the OECD’s global anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing (AML/CTF) body, has identified the real estate sector as a target for financiers of terrorism (FATF, 2008) and area of risk for those involved with real estate transactions (FATF, 2013). In Canada, Individuals working in real estate must report suspicious transactions to FINTRAC, Canada’s financial intelligence unit, yet, little is known about how determinations of suspicion are made nor how real estate agents are trained to detect financial wrongdoing. Canadian legislation provides little guidance in this regard: they stipulate that what is suspicious should be determined in accordance with industry norms and give wide discretionary powers to reporting agents. This project contributes to an important area of economic and state security that has largely gone ignored. We ask questions along three related lines of inquiry.

  1. What are the ‘industry norms’ that inform the reporting process? How do people who work in real estate others know what industry norms are relevant when making a report?
  2. What is the training process for individuals who work in real estate? How are they informed of their legal obligations to report suspicious financial transactions, and how do they understand their legal obligations to report suspected money laundering or terrorist financing?
  3. To date, the most comprehensive study of the Canadian AML/CTF examined banking, which is federally regulated. Real estate is provincially regulated, and markets are often driven by very localized concerns. To what extent are decisions to submit reports of suspicion influenced by local considerations of “normal” transactions, rather than industry-wide concerns?

Building on research in retail banking of one of the co-investigators (Iafolla, 2012), this project will examine suspicious transaction reporting in three major provincial real estate markets: Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton.

2. Educational Trajectories of Radicalized Females in Montreal

Key Researcher: Ratna Ghosh, McGill University
Media reports indicate that male youth have been lured to join ISIS, but increasingly, females are leaving their countries to join ISIS as well; yet there is hardly any research on radicalized females. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are using madrassas to recruit females (Afghanistan Taliban forces, 2009). In 2014, Boko Haram began to use female suicide bombers, some as young as ten years of age, to attack Nigerian educational institutions (Grossman, 2015). In Canada, 10-12 young females – from varied religious and secular families – who lived and have been educated in Canadian schools have left for Syria (Hopper, 2016). Amarasingam reports that at least five Canadian women have conceived children in ISIS territory (Hopper, 2016). This is significant: Tiflati points out that several Western women in ISIS territory are birthing “a generation of Western ISIS babies” (Canadian women giving, 2016). These radicalized women succumb to ISIS propaganda as they believe that they are fulfilling their own jihad – by giving birth to children they ensure the succession of the next generation of extremists. Reports indicate that ISIS has even started a maternity hospital in Raqqa to support this narrative (Willsher, 2016). Thus, it is important to explore the role of radicalized females. Studies on radicalized women so far have depended largely on data from secondary sources such as online media (Hoyle, Bradford & Frenett, 2014; Noor & Hussein 2010; Sanchez, 2014). In Canada too, work on radicalized women by Laura Huey from Western University focuses on discussions held on online forums. In contrast, this project on radicalized females in Montreal will examine the process of radicalization by gathering primary data. This will provide greater clarity on the realities and fantasies of their extremism, and provide more nuanced knowledge and information on this particular issue.

This project will concentrate on females who have either gone to Syria or have attempted to go there from Montreal, Quebec. The aim is to create portraits of their educational trajectories from information gathered through their peer-group, parents, teachers, and friends. We ask: What circumstances make some girls more vulnerable than others to ISIS propaganda?

3. Radicalization in Alberta’s Prisons

Key Researcher: Kevin Haggerty, University of Alberta
Correctional facilities have been identified as ideal settings for both initiating and reinforcing radicalization into violent extremism (Hamm 2013). For example, the suspects for both terrorist attacks carried out in France in 2015 seem to have met and planned their attacks within the confines of a correctional facility. However, this is not a uniform tendency, and appears to be related to social context and to the operational dynamics of correctional institutions (Useem and Clayton, 2009; Jones 2014).

In Canada, however-with the exception of some internal research done by Correctional Services Canada (Axford, Stys, and McEachran, 2015) we have little understanding of radicalization behind and beyond prison walls, as independent empirical research on this topic has not yet been conducted. Our research will help develop greater understanding of prison radicalization by conducting qualitative research on radicalization in one correctional facility in Alberta (Fort Saskatchewan). This project is designed to set the groundwork for a much larger research project on prison radicalization in Alberta to be conducted by our research team.

Two overarching questions drive the research at this early stage: (1) How do inmates understand the extent and process of radicalization, and (2) How does correctional staff understand and respond to the process of prison radicalization? These are necessarily broad questions, but are usefully oriented to the process of radicalization as understood by both inmates and staff. These framing questions will allow us to explore a series of subsidiary themes, including the role of charismatic leaders in the radicalization process, how radicalization might (or might not) be informed by sources/processes external to the prison, the various (personal, pragmatic, personal safety, ideological) appeals of radicalization for inmates, how/why some inmates might resist the lure(s) of radicalization, how different prison cultures might shape the radicalization process, and so on. Our research is currently focused on one correctional facility However, we conceive of this project as laying the groundwork for a much larger study of radicalization in several correctional institutions in Alberta. We are fortunate that Alberta Corrections has already given us preliminary approval for our research

4. How “Alone” are Lone-Wolves?: Understanding Networks of Influence, Communication, and Tactical Support Among Lone-Wolf Terrorists

Key Researcher: David Hofmann, University of New Brunswick
Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there has been an increase in violent politically-motivated incidents committed by “lone-wolf” terrorists: individuals who act independently from established terrorist organizations (Eby, 2012; Spaaij, 2010). In response to mounting concern among policy-makers and police, there have been concerted efforts among terrorism scholars to understand the motives and methods of lone-wolf terrorists in order to help combat this growing threat (e.g., Becker 2014; Borum 2013). This, however, has not been a straightforward or easy task. As noted in a recent report on lone-wolf terrorism produced by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), “…there is no hierarchical organization to disrupt, no large network to infiltrate, no group literature to monitor, and few public statements to interpret or background chatter to analyze for patterns” (Deloughery et. al., 2013, p. 2). The implication is that the solitary nature of lone-wolf terrorism presents unique and difficult challenges for security agencies, policy practitioners, and scholars tasked with detecting, identifying, and preventing acts of lone-wolf terrorism. But, just how “alone” are lone-wolves? The available research indicates that lone-wolf terrorists do not radicalize in a social vacuum (Spaaij, 2011, pp. 47-58), nor do they plan their activities in complete anonymity (Gill et. al., 2014). Despite the increasing empirical evidence that challenges this approach, much of the current research continues to focus on the behaviors and beliefs of individual lone-wolves (e.g., Bakker and de Graaf, 2011; Becker, 2014). With few exceptions, much of the current scholarship on lone-wolf terrorism overlooks the crucial role that larger social networks may have the radicalization and operation of lone-wolf terrorists. In order to begin correcting this lacuna in knowledge, this research proposes to use a network science approach to conduct several in-depth case studies of Canadian lone-wolves that explore the structural characteristics and the extent of their ideological, communicative, and support networks. By focusing on the type, nature, and frequency of the relational ties that lone-wolves form during their radicalization towards violence, this research has the potential to provide unique social structural insights with practical applications for security agencies tasked with detecting and preventing acts of lone-wolf terrorism.

5. Exploring Resilience and Violent Extremism among Religious Converts in Canada

Key Researcher: Andy Knight, University of Alberta
Religious converts are one of the most securitized populations in the Western world. “Exploring Resilience and Violent Extremism among Religious Converts in Canada” will examine the controversial question of why religious converts are an over-represented population among homegrown violent extremists in Canada. Specifically, it asks why a small minority of religious converts are radicalized and attracted to transnational militant social movements (e.g. the so-called Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda), while, by comparison, a majority do not experience “radicalization”. Indeed as previous study has shown, or many, conversion can be a positive life experience that generates desirable social and individual outcomes (Roald 2004 & 2012, Flower and Birkett 2014 ). Building on recent findings on radicalization, the scholarship of Lome Dawson ( 1996, 2006 and 2010) on New Religious Movements and “radicalization”, and Anne Roald (2004 and 2012) on religious conversion among new Muslims, the authors hypothesize that a small minority of converts are vulnerable to extremist narratives due to the particularities of the social processes contained in conversion. Conversion has been described by Lofland and Stark (1965) as a process through which an individual adopts a new “ordered view of the world.” Individuals undergoing initial conversion may distance themselves from previously established kinship and friendship networks and develop “affective bonds” with their new group of co-religionists. During this initial period of the conversion process, individuals may experience a push and pull process between established and new social networks and ideas of belonging. Moreover, during this early stage of conversion, converts to Islam often lack grounding in key texts (Quran and Hadiths) and familiarity with Arabic, making them particularly vulnerable to the powerful messaging and recruitment strategies of exploitative transnational extremist groups that present themselves as uniquely authentic religious movements pursuing eschatological goals. Thus, it is hypothesized that if vulnerable individuals encounter these narratives and extremist social networks – for example through social networks or online – they may be prone to indoctrination I recruitment. The above hypothesis is drawn from an extensive literature review on the topics of “radicalization” and religious conversion but remains untested, indicating the necessity of further research.

6. An Assessment of The Canadian Response to the Foreign Fighter Threat in Comparative Perspective

Key Researcher: Patti Lenard, University of Ottawa
The foreign fighter threat has recently been elevated to the top of national security agendas in many western countries (e.g. CSIS 2014 & 2016; Clapper 2016). While the threat may not be new (e.g. van Zuijdewijn and Bakker, 2014), its elevated status reflects concerns in particular about the ambitions and practices of the “Islamic State” entity in Iraq and Syria. The IS has demonstrated an ability to both draw foreign fighters to its self-proclaimed “caliphate” to bolster its capacity and to draw on the skills of terrorist fighters in its ranks to launch attacks against Western countries, particularly those identified as participants in the anti-IS coalition (e.g., Clapper 2016). The foreign fighter threat is embedded in the larger issue of efforts on the part of the Islamic State to recruit and radicalise members of Muslim communities in the West, utilising social media tools and the internet. As states such as Canada seek ways to thwart the foreign fighter threat, they have reached to new policies and legal instruments to prevent their nationals from travelling to join the Islamic State and other terrorist entities.

Our research project aims to take stock of these new policies and instruments by considering their efficacy, their impact on rights, and their comparative status when measured against the activities of like-minded allies. In particular, we seek to ask, and formulate some answers to, the following questions:

  1. How has the Canadian government described the foreign fighter threat in policy statements?
  2. What suite of legal powers has been developed in Canada to combat the foreign fighter threat?
  3. What democratic challenges do the existence and use of these powers pose?
  4. What is the record of efforts to combat the foreign fighter threat to date?
  5. How does Canada’s approach to the foreign fighter threat compare to that of its close allies?

The overall purpose of our research project is to cast greater light on the nature of the foreign fighter threat, and on the Canadian response, particularly as regards its efficacy and proportionality, as part of a contribution to an enhanced public understanding and to policy development.

7. Global Financial Networks and Anti-Terrorist Financing Laws

Key Researcher: Christian Leuprecht, Royal Military College of Canada
That terrorists, criminals and their facilitators exploit the global financial marketplace is well known. In an age of globalization, the magnitude and velocity of terrorism and crime, driven by interconnected economies and advances in communication and technology, have resulted in significant profits and violence (Realuyo 2015; Dishman 2005). A convergence of threats has improved groups’ ability to evade official countermeasures, overcome logistical challenges, identify and exploit weaknesses and opportunities in the state system, and attack that system (McKenzie & Baker 2014). While the global movement of illicit goods is well documented, open-source evidence linking terrorism and global financial networks is less evident. This project builds on previously largely disparate strands of literature on terrorist financing on the one hand, and international tax evasion and money laundering on the other. U.S. civil lawsuits are also examined to promote an understanding of the relationship between terrorism and global financial networks. The project hypothesizes characteristics about the confluence between terrorism and global financial crimes such as international money laundering and offshore tax evasion. This project hypothesizes several vulnerabilities within the anti-terrorist financing legal and policy regime. First, Canada and the United States maintain federal and subfederal laws that allow non-resident investors to mask their true identities in some situations, creating the potential for terrorists to transfers funds to and from these countries on an anonymous basis. Second, non-cooperative states at times do not comply with, and/or meaningfully enforce, international financial standards that strive to identify sources of crossborder funds. Third, offshore tax havens—where $10 to $35 trillion in unreported financial wealth is estimated to be hidden—serve as financial intermediaries to move and hide cross-border transfers of licit and illicit income for terrorist financing purposes. Terrorist financing, like other global financial crimes including offshore tax evasion and international money laundering, can only work to the extent that funds transferred across borders go undetected by local law enforcement authorities

(Shelley 2014).

8. More Than Paper Terrorists? A Closer Look At Freemen-On –The-Land In Canada

Key Researcher: Barbara Perry, University of Ontario Institute of Technology
Scholarly explorations of the Freemen-on-the-Land (FOTL), an anti-government movement, are quite literally non-existent in Canada. Perry and Scrivens (2015) refer to right-wing adherents of this movement in their Public Safety report on right-wing extremism in Canada. David Hofmann (forthcoming) is slated to provide a chapter on Canadian Freemen – grounded in open source materials – in an upcoming volume on terrorism. Aside from these, however, we have no reliable data or empirical insights into FOTL, thus limiting capacity to manage whatever threat they may pose to civilians and state authorities. What we do know comes largely from Associate Chief Justice Rooke’s decision in Meads v. Meads. He refers to the loose collection of individuals and small cells as “vexatious litigants.” Rooke also highlights the heterogeneity of these followers, observing that they “…do not express any stereotypic beliefs other than a general rejection of court and state authority; nor do they fall into any common social or professional association.” They are bound, they say, only by the principles of “natural law,” not human law. In a rambling statement of obligations, the “FreeMan Society of Canada,” for example, urges members and prospective members to “…maintain a non-consent Posture as to the Governments Rule […] Which makes you Free Men on the Land, and not Subjected to any –Statues, Bylaws, Rules of any Governments of Canada or Agencies there in” (

In the absence of any academic assessment of the FOTL movement in Canada, we propose to bring an exploratory and multi-method approach to this first such study. We seek to begin uncovering answers to the following questions:

  1. What are the core elements of FOTL ideologies and beliefs in Canada?
  2. What personal, professional or legal conditions draw individuals to the movement?
  3. How deep/strong are adherents’ connections to the movement?
  4. What illegal and/or violent activities are likely to follow from adherence to FOTL credos?
  5. How likely is it that FOTL ideologies will shape violent extremism?

9. Hearts, minds and counter-messages: An experimental test of personality on reactions to extremist propaganda and counter-extremist messages.

Key Researcher: Neil Shortland, University of Massachusetts Lowell
Practitioners, academics and society are turning their attention to the problem of “online radicalization.” While the availability of terroristic material online is a significant security concern we have little insight into the effects of being exposure to such material. Instead we all too often, and without evidence, hold that exposure to terrorist propaganda online “causes” radicalization resulting in terrorist behavior. Linked to this is the view that “counter-messages” aimed at challenging extremist voices are central to an effective counter violent extremism (CVE) strategy. However, while counter-messages show significant promise for discouraging support for terrorism, there are few attempts to offer theory-based guidelines to construct them and no measures of their effectiveness (Braddock & Horgan, 2015). Currently counter-messages are not developed based on sound scientific principles, nor tested using empirical metrics of effectiveness. Thus, while some counter-messages have been well received and viewed as “effective” (e.g., Extreme Dialogues), others have been met with skepticism and viewed as unsuccessful (e.g., “Think Now Turn Away”). Efforts to develop credible and effective counter-messages currently lack data-driven support for their development, or evaluation. The fact that scientific research on deterrent messaging has shown that poorly developed counter-messages can cause a “boomerang” effect increasing negative outcomes rather than preventing them emphasizes the need for social science support in the development and evaluation of counter-messages aimed at countering the voices of extremists online.

The goal of this research then, and building upon experimental work currently being undertaken by the PI, is to experimentally test the effectiveness of several difference types of counter-messaging campaigns. Specifically this research seeks to investigate:

R1: Under what circumstances do CVE counter-messages mitigate the effects of extremist propaganda?
R2: Under what circumstances do CVE counter-messages inoculate against the effects of extremist propaganda?
R3: What combination of factors improves the effectiveness of some types of CVE counter-messages over others, and why?