Canadian Security Magazine

Phil Gurski: No indicators that Toronto attack was terrorism

Ellen Cools   

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According to one expert, “there’s nothing to suggest” the vehicular attack that occurred in Toronto on April 23 is “a terrorist attack.”

That’s the opinion of Phil Gurski, president and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting, and former senior strategic analyst at CSIS.

Canadian law defines an act of terrorism as violence that is carried out for political, ideological or religious motivation, he explains, and nothing suggests those motivations apply here.

In fact, the suspect, identified as Alek Minassian, 25, of Richmond Hill, Ont., has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 of attempted murder. Toronto Police announced at 3:00 pm on April 24 that Minassian would likely face an additional count of attempted murder.

“The police haven’t laid terrorist charges because they have nothing to suggest terrorism, so we can’t go down that pathway,” Gurski notes.


In the hours immediately following the attack, Canadian Security spoke with Dr. Satyamoorthy Kabilan, director of national security and strategic foresight at the Conference Board of Canada, who also emphasizes that speculation is unhelpful at this point.

“I know the temptation is there to try to work out every detail as to what happened, but that’s actually unhelpful in terms of the investigation [and] for people’s fear levels,” Kabilan says. “We don’t actually know what it is at the moment in terms of motivation.”

But as the details of the event become clearer, many are now wondering how to prevent a similar attack in the future.

Unfortunately, Gurski says “nothing” can be done to mitigate such vehicular attacks.

Although cities can install barricades outside public areas such as sports stadiums, parks and city hall, the question is, where do you draw the line?

“If you want to say, ‘Okay, Yonge Street was hit, we’ll just barricade Yonge Street.’ Well, good luck with that, because Yonge Street’s pretty big. So first of all, you couldn’t do it. Second of all, you could try, but it would be incredibly expensive. Thirdly … if you did it, you’d basically be building ‘Fortress Toronto,’ which nobody wants. And fourthly, the bad guys just move onto the next block,” he explains.

Additionally, these attacks, Gurski explains, are “stupid simple.”

“Who’s going to stop you from driving into a crowd? The answer is nobody, unless you’re already under surveillance, under investigation, and even then it’s problematic,” he adds.

In this case, he says it will be interesting to discover why the driver chose to attack the city.

“Was he inspired by someone else? Did he read somebody online? Did he follow somebody else’s modus operandi and say, ‘Hey, I can do that?’ We don’t have answers to these questions just yet.”

Gurski says reporting potential signs of such an attack is paramount.

“All my work on radicalization when I worked for the service [CSIS] indicates quite categorically that there are always signs and that the challenge is not that there aren’t signs, but …what do you do about them?” he asks. “You’ve got to call somebody.”

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