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Comment: Terrorism at home a reality

A grim reality of life in the 21st century is terrorism. All of us go about our daily lives giving only casual thought to terrorism – to us, its face is a grainy image with a foreign name on a television screen from a far off land – a suicide bomber in Israel, a car bomb in Iraq.

December 6, 2007
By Laura King


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A grim reality of life in the 21st century is terrorism. All of us go about our daily lives giving only casual thought to terrorism – to us, its face is a grainy image with a foreign name on a television screen from a far off land – a suicide bomber in Israel, a car bomb in Iraq.

If the events of Sept. 11, 2001, were a wake-up call to North Americans, it is also true that many of us have resumed the slumber. Thankfully, not all of us. This month’s cover story on page 34 details the work of the RCMP’s elite domestic anti-terrorism unit. Specifically, it brings forward the Integrated Nat ional Security Enforcement Team’s message that first responders in Canada had better know what to do in the event of a terror attack and, more importantly, what to watch for to help prevent such attacks.

As Cpl. Ian Daniels outlines in brutally plain language, it is not a question of if, it is a question of when. Terrorists will strike Canada. Osama bin Laden has specifically raised Canada as a potential target on at least four occasions, the same way he has mentioned the United States, Great Britain, Spain and Australia – all countries that have suffered specific, targeted terror attacks.

But terror comes with many faces and really, no one knows that better than Canadians.

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Forty years ago the Front de liberation du Quebec was increasingly pushing a radical agenda for political change with violence that culminated in the October Crisis in 1970. In 1984, Sikh extremists blew up an Air India flight from Vancouver, killing more than 300 Canadians. And just last summer, 17 young men were arrested in Toronto, alleged to be members of a terror cell intent on blowing up, among other things, the CN Tower.

Anyone who has boarded a bus, subway or commuter train in a major Canadian city, knows how easy it would be to cause great harm. The RCMP’s INSET needs the expertise of Canada’s first responders to identify the signs of what could be a terror plot. As Cpl. Daniels and Cpl. Dave Corcoran told fire chiefs in B.C. in June, there’s more going on out there than any of us realizes.

As this month marks the 50th anniversary issue of Fire Fighting in Canada, it would be nice to delude ourselves into thinking there was a simpler time, when first responders didn’t have to think about global threats like terrorism.

But 50 years ago, the Cold War was in full swing and the threat of nuclear war hung so thick that children were taught how to react in the event of an attack. (Have a look at our enclosed 50th anniversary supplement, which features a piece on civil defence from 1957 and the role of firefighters, and an essay written this month by Ottawa civil defence expert Peter Knaack. The similarities are surprising and the messages are similar: first responders, and firefighters in particular, are key to protecting our citizens in the event of an act of terrorism, and a powerful, centrally directed national disaster planning effort is a must.)

Fifty years ago, the rapid development of new plastics and synthetic building materials created challenges for fire departments of all sizes and continues to do so. New technology also created new ways to fight fires, deal with traumatic accidents and protect the public.

And for 50 years, FFIC has provided a forum for the men and women on the front lines of fire prevention and public safety to share ideas and learn from each other. We thank you for your trust.


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