Globe and Mail

Domestic activists deemed a threat

Tuesday, February 19, 2002 – Print Edition, Page A7
The Globe and Mail

NIAGARA FALLS, ONT. -- Canada faces a serious threat from domestic activists, protesters and extremists who can't be ignored during the war on terrorism, experts say.

One of the speakers at the Ontario government's terrorism conference in Niagara Falls, Ont., said yesterday that large-scale attacks are most likely to come from within the country's borders.

"In your hierarchy of threats, it's more likely to come from a domestic source first," said Benjamin Works, executive director of New York's Strategic Issues Research Institute, which bills itself as a military-affairs think tank.

Sam Gonzales, an intelligence specialist for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, warned the audience of about 300 police officers, firefighters and emergency workers that they might have underestimated home-grown extremists.

"Not all attacks against you may be from a foreign source," Mr. Gonzales said afterward. "Some of them may be what we perceived in the past to be groups with the motivation, but certainly not the means, to create a major incident."

Mr. Gonzales has experienced domestic terrorism first hand, having served as Oaklahoma City's police chief when Timothy McVeigh, bombed a government building in 1995.

Law-enforcement officials should closely monitor any groups with a history of causing disturbances, Mr. Gonzales said, particularly by reading their postings on the Internet.

Domestic threats seem comparatively important in Canada because international terrorists haven't shown much interest in attacking the country, Mr. Works said. It's not difficult to imagine foot-and-mouth disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (so-called mad-cow disease) being spread by protesters against the meat industry, he added.

James Young, Ontario's chief coroner and assistant deputy minister of public safety for the Ontario government, said emergency workers have to be ready for threats from both inside and outside the country, though he emphasized that either possibility is remote.

"We haven't had the same problems with militia groups or the eco-terrorist groups in the United States," Dr. Young said. "But we have to be aware of both now."

The second day of Ontario's three-day conference to educate emergency workers about terrorism also heard retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie criticize the lack of resources for Canada's military.

"We are at a point where our modest response with the army is lulling the public into a false sense of security that we are operationally capable," Gen. MacKenzie said.

Copyright © 2002 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc.