Most Canadians view Muslim community as a “partner”, not a “problem” in the fight against radicalization

However, 73% also say Muslim community leaders aren’t speaking out enough against homegrown terrorism

The majority of Canadians see the Muslim community in this country as a partner in the fight against radicalization, but also say Muslim community leaders need to do more to denounce acts of homegrown terror.

These are among the findings of a comprehensive survey on radicalization and homegrown terrorism by the Angus Reid Institute (ARI) – in partnership with the Province (part of the Postmedia Network), the Laurier Institution and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.

The survey sought to examine this complex and emerging subject from several perspectives, including perception of the threat, methods for prevention, confidence in

Canadian security services, views on punishment, and attitudes towards the Muslim community and its leaders in this country.

Key Findings:

Canadians are engaged and following issues of radicalization and homegrown terrorism in this country closely, but the Angus Reid Institute survey finds a nation, its regions and even its households are divided on how best to address these problems.

Severity of the Threat:

The Angus Reid Institute survey shows most Canadians are indeed engaged on the issue of homegrown terrorism. Three-quarters (74%) say they are watching the issue either “very closely” (24%) or “closely” (50%).

Geography may influence familiarity to an extent: the shooting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa appears to have galvanized Ontario respondents most, with one-third (31%) saying they have been following the issue “very closely”.

Homegrown Graphics

Radicalized individuals among us?

Overall, one-third of Canadians (35%) say they feel there are already radicalized individuals living in their communities. This sentiment is highest in Ontario (41%) and Alberta (38%) where reports of young men in Calgary becoming radicalized and committing violent acts overseas have dominated the headlines. Slightly fewer than three-in-ten (28%) say no radicalized individuals are in their communities, while most (37%) say they aren’t sure.

Among those who say “no” or “aren’t sure”, a further one-third (32%) say it is likely that people are in the process of becoming radicalized in their communities. Thus, just over half of Canadians surveyed say radicalized people are either living in their communities today or are in the process of becoming radicalized.

Those who say radicalized individuals are not living amongst them are nearly twice as likely to live in rural areas as big cities, and are more likely to be young. Those who say “no” are also nearly twice as likely to say the threat is overblown compared to those who believe radicalized individuals are already living among them.

Homegrown terrorism: serious threat or overblown?

Striking differences are noticeable on the question of whether Canadians feel the threat of homegrown terrorism is real and serious or whether it has been overblown in the media and by politicians. Much of this depends on whether Canadians believe there are already, or likely to be, radicalized individuals living in their communities.

Nationally, nearly two-thirds (62%) say homegrown terrorism is a serious threat, compared to just over one-third (38%) who say it is overblown. Those in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec are most likely to express this sentiment (70%, 68% and 69% respectively). Respondents in BC and Atlantic Canada are most split on this question.


Contrasts are noticeable, however, among those who say they are radicalized people living in their communities versus those who say there are not. Among those who say radicalized individuals are already in their communities, three-quarters (74%) also say homegrown terrorism is a serious threat, and one-quarter (26%) say it’s been overblown. Among those who say no radicalized people are living in their midst, the perception of a serious threat falls significantly to 53 per cent, while the perception that homegrown terrorism is overblown by politicians and the media nearly doubles, to 47 per cent.

Prison and Passports:

On the issue of how to deal with suspected homegrown terrorists who have either expressed or acted on a desire to leave the country, ARI found the in this country would prefer to ground them. Three-in-five (60%) said such individuals should have their passports taken away from them and be watched by police. This sentiment was strongest in Quebec (71%) and weakest in BC (47%).

Conversely, two-in-five (40%) Canadians said suspected homegrown terrorists should be able to leave the country if they wanted, even if it meant committing acts of terror somewhere else. Support for this view is highest in BC (53%) and lowest in Quebec (29%).

Confidence in Security Services:

Confidence in institutions such as the RCMP, CSIS and local police to stop radicalized Canadians from carrying out acts of violence is split, with half of respondents (50%) saying they are either “very confident” (5%) or “confident” (45%). Just over forty per cent say they are “not very confident” (37%) or “not confident at all” (6%).

Notably, these results represent a 10-point increase in confidence since late October, when Angus Reid Institute asked Canadians the same question. At the time, two-in-five respondents (40%) said they were either “confident” (36%) or “very confident” (4%).

A more specific question asked respondents whether the October 22, 2014 attack and fatal shooting of military personnel on and around Parliament Hill in Ottawa by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was either a terrorist attack or an act of someone with a mental illness.

Canadians were almost evenly divided in their views on this issue. Nearly two-in-five (36%) said the shooting was a terrorist attack. About as many (38%) said it was an act of mental illness. The rest (25%) said they weren’t sure.

Again, a look at how respondents answered by region shows differences in opinion. In BC and Atlantic Canada, respondents said the shooting was a result of mental illness, almost two-to-one over terrorism. In Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, slightly more respondents say it was terrorism. Ontario and Quebec respondents are more evenly divided on this question (see tables at the end of this report).

Prevention of Radicalization:

Asked about the best places to prevent and address the radicalization process in which people become driven by violent ideology, Canadians said attention should be focused on:

  • Schools (27%)
  • Places of worship (25%)
  • Online/Internet (23%)
  • Family homes (18%)
  • Community centres (8%)

Respondents were also gauged on their support or opposition towards possible measures aimed at addressing the radicalization process and preventing violent acts.

One hypothetical measure commanded the most support: a federally-funded program aimed at specifically training mental health workers to identify signs of radicalization. This garnered the backing of 87 per cent of respondents nationally, with no significant difference in regional or demographic response.

Other measures that garnered majority support included:

  • Blocking access to Internet sites that promote ISIS or any other terrorist organization (83%)
  • Deportation (82%)
  • Indefinite imprisonment (68%)

There was one hypothetical measure on which support was much more tepid and on which Canadians were evenly divided. This was the suggestion of a federally funded grant program for mosques in Canada that wished to spend money on preventing radicalization. Half of respondents (49%) said they supported such a measure. The other half (51%) said they opposed it.

As to where the federal government should be putting more priority to address radicalization, just over half (54%) of Canadians told the Angus Reid Institute the emphasis should be on initiatives to prevent radicalization, and one-third (34%) said government should focus on sterner measures to punish those who become driven by violent ideologies.

Those who felt government should place priority on punishment were older: 43 per cent were aged 55+, compared to 29 per cent aged 18-to-34. They also were more likely to be from Saskatchewan or Manitoba.

Crime, Security and Punishment:


On October 27, 2014, the federal government introduced proposed legislation, Bill C-44, that would give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) increased powers to watch Canadians, the authority to operate outside Canada, and to share information about Canadians with other countries. It also gives more protection to confidential sources.

Although the introduction of this legislation didn’t come as a direct response to the shootings on Parliament Hill five days earlier, it did nonetheless capture the attention of Canadians and change the tone of debate in House of Commons.

In terms of public opinion surrounding the proposed legislation, ARI asked and found that half (51%) of Canadians overall felt Bill C-44 does a “good job” of addressing security threats. Just over one-quarter (27%) felt the legislation goes “too far” and steps on civil liberties; just under one-quarter (22%) said Bill C-44 doesn’t “go far enough” to protect Canadians.


Again, a deeper look into demographic and regional responses provides a more complete story. Canadians aged 18-34 are twice as likely as those aged 55+ to raise civil liberties issues vis-à-vis Bill C-44. Those aged 55+ say the legislation is too anemic by a ratio of three-to-one over younger Canadians.

Regionally, two-in-five (39%) British Columbia respondents say the proposed law goes too far. This is twice as many who answer this way as those in Saskatchewan (20%) and Quebec (19%). Most respondents who say the legislation doesn’t go far enough are found in Saskatchewan (27%). By contrast, only about half as many who say the same thing are found in Atlantic Canada (15%).

Another discussion point on the issue of how best to deal with suspected homegrown terrorists focuses on indefinite imprisonment. On this question, slightly more than half (54%) of respondents say jailing them for an unfixed amount of time only motivates suspected homegrown terrorists to commit violent crimes when they are eventually released. Slightly fewer than half (46%) say indefinite imprisonment does prevent violent crime.


Causes of Radicalization:

ARI asked Canadians what they thought caused people to become radicalized. They were asked to choose from a number of possible causes. Respondents picked three causes most often:

  • Religion/culture (47%)
  • Mental illness (37%)
  • Feelings of marginalization (34%)

It is notable that gender divides perception of their top two choices. Where Canadian women were almost evenly split between religion/culture (43%) and mental illness (40%), men were much more adamant that religion/culture (51%) was a bigger cause than the state of one’s mental health (33%).

Other causes included “internet recruitment”, “old country beliefs” and “economics/financial problems” (See tables at the end of this report).

Views about Canada’s Muslim community:

Revelations by police that suspects in the Parliament Hill shooting and the hit-and-run attack on military personnel the same week in Quebec were motivated by violent political ideology related to Islam once again bring to the public discourse Canadian views towards the Muslim community and its leadership.

To that end, ARI asked respondents how they viewed the Muslim community and its leadership in light of these acts. The majority (58%) of Canadians say the community is a “partner in the fight against radicalization”. A sizeable minority (42%), see the Muslim community as “part of the problem of radicalization.”


When results are analyzed based on whether respondents believe radicalized individuals are currently living in their communities, the minority turns into a slim majority.

For those who believe such people are living among them, just over half (53%) see the Muslim community as part of the problem. For those who say radicalized individuals are not living in their communities, the majority (66%) see the Muslim community as a partner in the collective fight.


The national majority view that the Muslim community are partners in fighting radicalization does not however, mitigate another widespread view: that Muslim community leaders have been too quiet in denouncing violent ideology and acts of violence. Nationally, three-quarters (73%) of respondents say “Muslim community leaders are not speaking out enough” against homegrown terrorism. This view is strongest in Saskatchewan (76%) and Atlantic Canada (78%), and weakest in Alberta (67%) and BC (66%).



Issues of tolerance:

When asked if respondents supported or opposed people wearing various religious symbols or clothing in public, those surveyed generally approved, however, a few distinctly stood out.

In contrast to the majority of Canadians who support woman wearing the Hijab and a Nun’s Habit – 73 per cent and 88 per cent respectively – seven out of ten (73%) oppose Muslim woman wearing a Niqab in public – a veil that covers the face, showing only the eyes –. The generations are divided on the subject with 42 percent of 18 to 34 year olds supporting the Niqab while eight in ten (85%) aged 55 and older, oppose its use.

The Kippa, Star of David and Crucifix received wide spread approval (80%, 86% and 89% respectively), whereas the Kirpan – a ceremonial dagger carried by Sikhs – was deemed unfit to wear in public by 71 per cent of respondents.

Regionally, however, support and opposition became more polarized. British Columbians showed the most wide spread support, while many in Quebec deemed the religious symbols and garments unacceptable for public display (see table at the end of this report).

Click here for the full report including tables and methodology

Click here for Questionnaire used in this survey

Image Credit: Migration Museum