For years Canada has been known as one of the safest places in the world. In 2014 it ranked 7th out of 162 countries in the Global Peace Index. But all that changed last October, when two deadly attacks occurred in the country’s major cities within days. The first homicide was carried out in Quebec. A 25-year-old francophone Canadian named, Martin Couture-Rouleau, ran down two soldiers in a shopping centre parking lot in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.
Warrant officer Patrice Vincent died from his injuries, while the other victim survived. As Rouleau fled from the scene, he called 911 and said he was “acting in the name of Allah.” After the perpetrator was chased down, he tried to attack a female officer with a knife and was shot dead. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has declared the incident to be a terrorist act performed by an ISIL-inspired extremist. Yet from the outside, the life of the killer seemed ordinary.
Couture-Rouleau lived with his parents, owned a small power-washing business and raised a little son. However, the investigation revealed that a year before the attack, Couture-Rouleau had converted to Islam and took a name of Ahmad Le Converti, which means Ahmad the Converted. He was known to national anti-terrorism investigators as someone who had taken to radicalism. In his social network accounts Rouleau posted anti-American and anti-Semitic images and links. He also visited jihadist websites. According to the friends of the attacker, in summer 2014 Rouleau was stopped by border authorities while trying to leave Canada to join ranks of the ISIL militants. The police confirmed that his passport was revoked in June 2014 over concerns that Rouleau “became radicalized”.
In light of the Quebec attack, Canadian authorities raised the terror threat level to medium but it didn’t help to prevent the next deadly assault carried out only two days later. This time the scene was Ottawa. The chaos in the capital began in the morning when police received several 911 calls about a shooting at the heart of the city — the National War Memorial. It was Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a 32-year-old Canadian from Montreal, who opened fire and shot dead a soldier on ceremonial sentry duty. The attacker then drove to Parliament Hill. Carrying a rifle, he entered the Centre Block building, where Canadian MP’s were attending the caucuses. The security guards tried to stop the intruder but were wounded. The police officers who arrived at the scene managed to corner Bibeau in front of the Library of Parliament where he was killed in a shootout. Just meters away from that spot, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was hiding in a closet while other senior political officials tried to barricade the doors. The incident was classified as a terrorist attack and ignited a debate on home-grown radicalism in Canada.
The police investigation revealed that Bibeau grew up in Eastern Canada, was baptized a Roman Catholic and worked as a miner. His mother was a Quebecoise, while his father emigrated from Libya and opened a café in Montreal. Bibeau converted to Islam in 2004 and had attended Sunni Muslim mosques in Vancouver but was expelled for “erratic behavior”. The same year he pleaded guilty to drug possession and was later charged with several other offences, including robbery and parole violations. In 2007 Bibeau went to Libya but the details of the trip remain unknown. The attacker arrived to Ottawa on October 2, 2014 and has been staying in a homeless shelter near Parliament Hill. The investigators also said that Bibeau recorded a video prior to the attack but police refrained from releasing it.
A few days after the attack Canadian authorities announced they had persuasive evidence that the shooting in Ottawa was driven by ideological and political motives. The federal public safety minister Steven Blaney urged the nation to take the threat seriously.
"These terrible acts underscore the need for Canada to remain vigilant against terrorist attacks by individuals who become radicalized to violence for whatever reason. We saw the explosive cocktail that mental health, drug addiction and ideology — extremist-inspired —can provide. So we need to adapt, adjust and reach out — take this opportunity as Canadians to be prepared. And also work with other countries that are facing the same challenges."
The first measures were taken hours after the attacks. Canadian Armed Forces members in Ottawa, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada were ordered to stay out of uniform when off duty. In addition, Canadian military bases around the country tightened their security. Prime Minister Harper also promised to pass new laws giving police more powers in terms of surveillance, detention and arrest of suspected terrorists without charge or the commission of an actual crime. The human rights activists expressed their concerns over the legislation but the national poll conducted by Angus Reid organization in November 2014 showed that the majority of the population supported the measures. Nearly 54% of Canadians said that more government initiatives should be implemented to prevent radicalization, while 34% favoured harsher punishments for homegrown terrorists, including indefinite incarceration.