RCMP commissioner says 'caustic' political debate that radicalizes followers a concern

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson says there's reason to be concerned about the effect poisonous political debate is having on those who are easily influenced in the wake of last week's deadly mosque attack and other incidents of extremism.

Bob Paulson asked about last week's deadly attack on Quebec mosque at Senate security committee

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson appeared before the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence on Monday in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson says there's reason to be concerned about the effect poisonous political debate is having on those who are easily influenced in the wake of last week's deadly attack on a mosque.

He made the comments Monday afternoon in testimony before the Senate committee on national security and defence.

In reference to the deadly mass shooting Jan. 29 at a mosque in Quebec City, committee chair Senator Daniel Lang asked Paulson for an update on criminal extremism in Canada.

"The unfortunate situation in Quebec, we cannot express our sorrow enough, but is there an increase in this particular type of activity, from your perspective?" asked the senator for Yukon.

Paulson replied that while that kind of activity isn't over-taking what he called the "classic" terrorist threat, police can't afford to lose sight of it.

"There is, I think everyone would agree, a more caustic tone to the political discourse that seems to attract and agitate and radicalize people of all persuasions, particularly those who know hardly anything about it, to engage — and that represents a concern for us," Paulson told the senators on the committee.

Paulson pointed to clashes Mounties have had a small but vocal anti-government group based in Western Canada.

"Freemen on the Land out in the West, we've had numerous encounters with that kind of criminality. And other instances. I wouldn't say it's overtaking the classic terrorism threat, but (it's) something we shouldn't lose sight of as we pursue these other threats," the commissioner said.

Lang also asked Canada's top cop if there was any new information on the number of Canadians who've returned home after going abroad to fight with terrorist groups.

In an oblique critique of his counterpart at Canada's spy agency, CSIS, Paulson refused to say.

"I know my colleague at the service has been throwing numbers around and we've trying to avoid throwing numbers around. I know that won't please you but I'm not going to do it," Paulson said.