From a Canadian's Perspective


Terrorism is the act committed to or outside of Canada by a person or people of a religious group, political group, or ideological purpose to instill fear into the public. One way terrorists instill fear is by causing “death or serious bodily harm by the use of violence” (Criminal Code 83.01 b.ii.A). Another way terrorists bring fear into society is by damaging private and/or public property which could also cause bodily harm or death. Canada has many ways of countering terrorism. There are different psychological theories that can (emphasis on can) help us understand the why and what makes a terrorist a terrorist.

There are many counter-terrorism units around the world including our own Canadian paramilitary unit Emergency Response Team and the special forces unit Joint Task Force 2. Other agencies like the FBI, CIA, from the United States and the Counter Terrorism Command from the U.K., are also just a few of the agencies who want to keep their country and help to keep other countries safe. After the events of September 11, 2001, these units have increased not only in number, but in training on how to defuse the situation quicker and smarter. Canada has been involved in the war against terrorism ever since the World Trade Center was taken down in 2001 by promoting “global peace and security” to make Canadians and others safe. Canada’s overall goal of the strategy is “to counter domestic and international terrorism in order to protect Canada”(Toews, 2015). In the book Building Resilience Against Terrorism: Canada’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy by the Honourable Vic Toews, the Minister of Public Safety, Toews affirms that Canada will be doing its best to protect individuals and communities and to prevent terrorist attacks. One strategy that is crucial to defeating terrorism is the teamwork of the different agencies around the world such as “security intelligence, federal, provincial, and municipal law enforcement agencies, all levels of government, and civil society.” Exchanging information on terrorists abroad or domestic can widen the perspective of handling the situation and let the allied country help the other if the situation is getting too heated. Since the year 2001, there has been an increase in the occurrence of terrorism around the world and in Canada. In the year 2002, there was one terrorist incident in Canada and increased to 62 incidents in Canada in 2015 which made the crime rate go up to .17 per 100,000 population (Cansim). Canada’s first terrorist incident was in 1923 with the Sons of Freedom; a group that came from the religious group Doukhobors that refused government authority. The Freedomites took credit for the bombing and setting fire to the schools, homes, businesses, railway lines, and electrical wires in British Columbia. One of the most recent attacks was the attack of the two Canadian military personnel in Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec in 2014. These two attacks reminded and affirmed all Canadians that Canada is not invincible to terrorist attacks and to stay vigilant. Another incident that happened was in Strathroy, Ontario, when a 24-year-old Aaron Driver detonated a bomb in the back of a cab, wounding the cab driver, before being shot by the RCMP who got a tip from the FBI of the potential threat.

Nowadays the profiling of a terrorist is due to the racial and religious characteristics of a person. Although most terrorists are coming from the Middle Eastern countries, it would be wrong to say that all Muslims and/or Arabs are terrorists. These terrorist groups are doing their job in converting not only other Middle Easterners or other Muslims, but they are converting the Caucasians, the Christians who still have their doubts, and more. The latest attack in Canada was a white 24-year-old man from Saskatchewan who was a supporter of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Though racial and religious profiling can aid in finding the terrorist(s) they are not the only judgements that should be involved in the profiling. The psychology of that person could bring obvious pointers to what they will become and what they will do. Psychological profiling is commonly used by many law enforcement in Canada and around the world. According to the psychologists who studied the individual characteristics of a terrorist such as John Horgan, the people who are interested in getting recruited by the terrorist groups are the people who “feel angry, alienated, or disenfranchised." The people believe that their political involvement is not as rewarding as it should be, so to make their voice heard, they turn to violence against the government or public which they deem to be not immoral. John Horgan, who is the director at Pennsylvania State University’s International Center for the Study of Terrorism, found that the question how people transformed after leaving the group would be better as to why they joined in the first place. The how opens information about the entry process, the involvement, and the leaving of the organizations. Knowing the false promised lifestyle the person(s) would receive for joining the organization is a good strategy for keeping people from learning about the lifestyle the hard way. Psychologists are also studying ways that will de-radicalize the men, women, and children who have to give into the deceit of these terrorist groups. The similarities of these programs are that they have three of the same components such as the intellectual, emotional, and social components. The intellectual component commonly involves a Muslim cleric talking about the Qu’ran’s true viewpoint on “violence and jihad” whereas the emotional component defuses the terrorist’s “anger and frustration by showing concern for their families.” And the social component that re-establishes their radical beliefs by re-entering society; for example, a program in Indonesia uses former terrorists to convince the newly recruited that violence against civilians destroys the image of Islam. These programs have shown beneficial results such as the Egyptian group Gama’a al-Islamiyya announced they would give up the act of bloodshed in 2003. There are many components to profiling a terrorist like race, religion, and gender which do help in some cases, but behavioural profiling is the most promising to be the one that most likely confirms that the person to is a terrorist.

The two theories that relate most to the act of terrorism are the frustration-aggression theory and Agnew’s strain theory. The frustration-aggression theory created by John Dollard in 1939 explains that when people are being prevented from achieving their goal(s), the chance of them acting out from the frustration of aggression is high. This theory could explain terrorism because of the frustration against society and the government to which the act of terror is the result out of the aggression. The intensity of the aggression can increase by having an outside interference such as the police and military ruining the plans of the terrorist(s), the frequency the frustration occurs and the magnitude of the event that prompted the frustration. A common reason for a person to be a terrorist is that the government made it law to make that person feel alienated and instead of talking about it the person would rather give in to hostile aggression. Another theory that can relate to terrorism is Robert Agnew’s version of the strain theory. Agnew’s approach is a revised version of Merton’s theory from a “micro-level social psychological perspective.” Agnew found that there are three main reasons that strain is caused: not achieving beneficial valued goals, the erasing of well-valued stimuli from a person, and the showing of negative stimuli can all cause strain. This theory also acknowledges the fact that people have different ways of dealing with their stress depended on past experiences, society’s influence, the person’s temper, capital goods, etc. For example, a person might act out on violence because the government or another person was violent to them about a problem or simply because their temper is extreme. The frustration-aggression theory and Agnew’s strain theory are the two best theories that could explain terrorism.

Terrorism is a crime that can be seen around the world and a crime that people are needing and wanting to stop entirely because of the terrorist(s) taking advantage upon the weak and using society's fear to help with their cause. Canada has many units and strategies for countering the terrorist(s) such as the special forces Joint Task Force 2 unit. These units also have some pointers to tell if a person is a terrorist by not only the racial and religious characteristics, but the overall behaviour of the person. Psychologists and counter-terrorism units ask the question, “why did the person get involved in the group in the first place?” There are two theories that could explain the reasoning to terrorism and those are the frustration-aggression theory and the strain theory created by Robert Agnew. World peace is a goal that has not yet been achieved for many years, but having these units and knowing what makes a terrorist is a good way to know how to counter and erase terrorism.


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Kyle Agawin
Kyle Agawin
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Kyle Agawin

Vancouver, BC

Figuring out who I am through writing, and telling you through my kind of stories

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