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Spy agency ended right-wing probe just months before Quebec mosque shooting

Last Updated Jun 20, 2018 at 6:00 pm EDT

OTTAWA – Canada’s spy agency ended its investigation of right-wing extremism 10 months before a gunman killed six worshippers at a Quebec City mosque, a new report reveals.

The federal spy watchdog says the Canadian Security Intelligence Service reopened the probe following the shooting.

Alexandre Bissonnette, 28, pleaded guilty in March to six charges of first-degree murder and six of attempted murder in the Quebec mosque attack.

The Security Intelligence Review Committee’s annual report, tabled in Parliament on Wednesday, says CSIS characterizes right-wing extremism in Canada as a complex range of groups and individuals — from white nationalists and anti-gay forces to anti-Semites and people opposed to immigration.

An internal CSIS review found the most of these activities amounted to — or were close to — lawful protest, advocacy or dissent, not threats to national security. As a result, the spy service concluded “the current threat environment no longer met the threshold of a CSIS investigation.”

CSIS also determined the threat was being appropriately addressed by police, and questioned the additional value of its own efforts.

The review committee looked at CSIS’s activities since 2012 with respect to right-wing extremism investigations as well as the impact, if any, of the January 2017 killings on the spy service’s work.

Following the mosque attack, the review committee has seen CSIS “engage more extensively and frequently” with the RCMP and other law enforcement partners to better understand the threat posed by right-wing extremism that would fall under CSIS’s mandate, the report says.

“According to CSIS, violence is usually infrequent, unplanned, and opportunistic, and is carried out by individuals rather than groups.”

Overall, the committee found that CSIS activities conducted during the period of Jan. 1, 2012, to June 30, 2017, complied with the CSIS Act and ministerial direction on intelligence priorities.

CSIS activities were also consistent with the authorities and limitations set out in its targeting policy, the report says.

Partnerships with police and law enforcement agencies in Quebec and elsewhere — along with other, unspecified investigative tools at CSIS’s disposal — played an important part in the investigation, the report adds.

“Besides helping to maintain awareness, these tools were valuable in investigating right-wing extremism activities that may present a threat to the security of Canada, including, for example, hate crimes against Muslims.”

Conscious of recent events, including white-supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Va., the review committee plans to revisit the issue “in the medium term.”

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter