Why counter-terrorist financing matters in Canada

By Christine Duhaime | February 1st, 2015

In Canada, suppressing terrorism is an “uphill battle” (see: Commission of Inquiry Into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182), and a battle which Canada stands poised to lose ground over unless more is done to detect, deter and prosecute terrorist financing.

We have had numerous terrorist attacks planned and foiled, and to a much lesser extent, planned and carried out in Canada. Fortunately, our intelligence agencies have mostly been able to detect and prevent attacks but its just a matter of time before they miss one that will cause us substantial human and physical harm.

It is self-evident that terrorist acts require terrorist financing. Unfortunately, not a lot of financing is required because terrorist acts cost very little to carry out.

The direct costs of the bombing of Air India Flight 182 that claimed the lives of 280 Canadians has been estimated to cost $3,000; the cost of the 2004 Madrid train bombings that claimed 191 lives was estimated to cost €15,000. The Paris bombs in 1995, a few hundred dollars.

Thus, funds raised, even in relatively insignificant amounts, by the activities of those engaged in terrorist financing, can wreck incredible havoc on Canada with economic costs that range in the billions of dollars. In essence, what we know about terrorist financing is that is does not take a lot of money to accomplish a lot of damage.

We also know that charities and non-profits play an increasingly important role in terrorist financing (see: Commission of Inquiry Into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182).

The Commissioners who wrote the Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Fight 182, after a multi-year study by learned people, found that financial institutions in Canada “have little incentive to monitor the flow of funds relating to terrorism.” It is surprising that the Commission received such testimony from financial institutions.

Be that as it may, it is true that financial institutions treat counter-terrorist financing law as if it is a branch of anti-money laundering law, and mistakenly use the same controls to detect it. They could not be more dissimilar.

Canadian financial institutions are managed and directed mostly by Canadians and there is ample incentive for them to be vigilant in respect of terrorist financing.

Terrorist acts have both direct and indirect costs on Canadians, and on our financial institutions.

Direct costs  include loss of human life and health and the loss of physical capital due to destruction of buildings and infrastructure. Indirect costs include the increased level of fear in the population, increased insurance and business costs.

There are also public costs, i.e., the expensive counterterrorist efforts by governments, such as airport security and border controls measures, monitoring the financial system and military operations, which drain resources from economically productive activities; and private costs bourn by the private sector, such as to comply with counter-terrorism laws and policies, reduced economic activity caused by greater costs to individuals and businesses through taxes, and non-monetary costs of the loss of civil liberties and other freedoms.

The purpose of detecting, preventing, acting lawfully against and prosecuting terrorist acts is to keep Canada and Canadians safe from those who would imperil our democratic freedom, core values and tolerant way of life, by harming Canadians through acts of violence.

Terrorism is not simply a crime. It is also an existential threat to our society, and Government has a legitimate interest in preventing terrorism, above and beyond that of punishing terrorists as criminals (see: Security, Freedom and the Complex Terrorism Threat: Positive Steps Ahead, Special Senate Committee on Anti-Terrorism, 2010).

Preventing terrorist financing prevents terrorists from committing terrorist acts. It’s that simple.

Comments are closed.