Canadians worried about Islamic extremism, white nationalist terrorism: poll

A new poll shows that a majority of Canadians are worried about “radicalized individuals” in their communities, but also believe security services and the police can handle any situation that could arise.

The new poll published by the Angus Reid Institute reveals 41 per cent of Canadians believe someone who is radicalized lives in their community. The poll showed Canadians think the two biggest homegrown threats are Islamic extremism and white nationalism — although the former was considered a much bigger issue. Fifty-nine per cent of respondents said homegrown Islamic extremism was a serious threat to Canada, while 45 per cent said that white nationalism was a serious threat.

Canadians should count themselves lucky in the past few years. While Europe has suffered from a series of terrorist attacks, notably in Paris, Brussels, Nice, London and other European cities, Canadian cities have mostly been spared the same carnage for the most part.

The 2014 shootings at Parliament Hill and subsequent vehicular attack in Quebec two days later, the killings of Muslim worshipers at Quebec City mosque in 2017 and the van attack in Toronto this past April are the most notable instances of mass casualty events in a similar time frame.

Some of the poll’s findings are seemingly contradictory. For instance, in Quebec in 2014, 30 per cent of respondents said “radicalized individuals” live in their community. Fifty-two per cent of respondents said this in 2018. But the number of respondents who said homegrown terrorism is a serious threat has dropped from 69 per cent to 50 per cent.

The poll also revealed a hardening of anti-Muslim attitudes among voters who backed the Conservative Party. In 2014, the party was almost evenly split between those who thought the Muslim community was a partner in the fight against radicalization and those who thought it was a part of the problem. Now, 61 per cent say the Muslim community is a part of the problem, a portion that might be higher due to an exodus of Muslim voters from the Conservative Party after they tried to whip up anti-Muslim sentiment to win the 2015 election. Those sentiments are an aberration when compared to national attitudes, where 58 per cent of respondents said the Muslim community was a partner in the fight against radicalization.

The inclusion of white nationalism to the list of threats to the state is new, driven by a resurgence in white supremacist rhetoric across the western world. The rise has been aided in part by the mainstreaming of right-wing parties in Europe and Trump administration officials, who have frequently peddled in dog-whistle and even quite blatant white supremacist rhetoric since winning the 2016 American presidential elections.

While seen as a less significant threat than Islamic extremism, 44 per cent of respondents said white supremacists constituted a significant threat to the country. The splits among the population took place along party and demographic lines. Millennials and Liberal and NDP voters thought white supremacist terrorism was as big a threat as Islamic extremism. Older and Conservative voters, two demographics with a lot of overlap, thought Islamic extremism was a much bigger threat to the country.

Nevertheless, Canadians also appear to believe in the power of redemption. When asked if the government should pursue anti-radicalization policies or punitive ones, 56 per cent of respondents said the government should pursue the former. Only 34 per cent said the government should be more stern in its treatment with radicalized individuals.