As the Kanishka Project, launched by the Canadian government in June 2011 to research strategies to tackle terrorism, completes its five-year mandate, it may prove a lasting legacy of the Air India flight 182 terror attack that claimed 329 lives in 1985.
The project was announced in Montreal during the unveiling of a memorial to the victims of the Kanishka bombing, which retains the dubious distinction of being Canada’s worst terrorist attack till date.
It came with a CA $10-million fund for initiatives related to understanding terrorism, particularly in the Canadian context. Jean Paul Duval, a spokesperson for Public Safety Canada, the nodal agency for the project, described it as “an initiative that invested in applied research on pressing questions for Canada on terrorism and counter-terrorism, such as countering radicalisation to violence”.
While the Kanishka bombing was undertaken by Khalistani terrorists, much of the funding for the project reflected how extremism has evolved over the decades, as Duval noted: “Kanishka funded cutting edge research in areas such as patterns of recruitment and involvement of foreign terrorist fighters in Syria/Iraq; the role of the internet and social media in violent radicalisation; and grassroots efforts by communities themselves to counter extremist propaganda.”
Issues that have been at the forefront in recent weeks, like the lone wolf terrorism in the case of Omar Mateen, who attacked the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, and airport security, important in light of the Istanbul attack this week, also have been on the agenda.
But most significantly, the project created an institutionalised interface between academia and researchers, and public policy and government agencies. In 2012, funding from the Kanishka Project was partly responsible for creation of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society or TSAS. The network now encompasses 10 universities and a similar number of government departments and has over 225 research affiliates.
TSAS’ co-director, Professor Lorne Dawson, said, “Canada lacked a native research facility. There was no concerted networked effort.” This effort has led to influencing public policy, for instance, through face-to-face interaction at workshops like one on countering jihadist narratives in Ottawa in 2014.
TSAS also now funds research, providing seed grants to nearly 30 projects in the past three years while also sponsoring studentships.
Dawson said the Kanishka Project coming into existence was “really impactful.” “It was successful in getting these issues in the map,” he said.
As the project wound down this year, the government is planning to establish an office of community outreach and counter-radicalisation that will continue funding similar research activity. “It would be terrible if that was not sustained,” Dawson said.