On January 29, 2017, a man entered a mosque in Quebec City, Que., and opened fire, killing six people and injuring five others as they kneeled for their evening prayers.
In the hours following the shooting, the RCMP's National Security Intervention and Prevention Team in Quebec responded. Working alongside local police, the RCMP team provided support to the community and answered whatever questions they could.
From a national security perspective, we were that point of contact for the community," says Supt. Martine Fontaine, criminal operations officer in-charge of organized crime and the National Security Intervention and Prevention Team in Quebec. "
Our role was not about investigating the crime, we were there to support residents and those affected."
The team has three primary roles when it comes to national security: intervention, training and awareness. The Quebec City mosque shooting is the most recent example of how the team intervenes following a potential national security incident.
Communities, victims, families and the suspect's family all need to know information," says Sgt. Hakim Bellal, who's in charge of the Intervention and Prevention Team.
In the days following the shooting, the team met with the president of the mosque, community leaders and victim's families to explain how the investigation would be done. They were there to offer support and provide resources to community members.
Besides responding to national security incidents, much of the team's intervention work is proactive in nature. They support investigators by assessing individuals identified by families, friends, concerned neighbours, colleagues and other police agencies as posing a possible risk to national security. To evaluate the risk of each person, they use a variety of tools including the RCMP's Violent Extremist Risk Assessment tool.
Depending on the level of risk, the team works with an investigator to intervene and provide support and resources to suspects and their families. Their ultimate goal is to prevent radicalization to violence and stop threats before they happen.
On top of intervention work, the Intervention and Prevention Team also offers training sessions to other police agencies and private sector partners.
Their primary role is making sure local police are equipped to prevent, recognize and diffuse threats to national security. Through the three-day Counter Terrorism Information Officer (CTIO) program, officers learn about the indicators and warnings of potential terrorist activity. To date, the team has held 18 workshops, educating more than 1,000 new CTIOs.
The team's other priority is educating non-police agencies. They offer one-day critical infrastructure workshops to promote suspicious incident reporting. They also offer half-day national security awareness workshops to workers who regularly interact with the public. To date, they've trained employees at more than 70 organizations, including airport personnel, healthcare workers and approximately 800 officers at the Canada Border Services Agency in Quebec.
We want to make sure everyone speaks the same language — we want every police officer to know the indicators of terrorism," says Meriem Rebbani-Gosselin, intervention co-ordinator for the team.
Last fall, the team also introduced a one-and-a-half-day course on cultural competency for police and other partners. Its goal is to get officers to understand and address cultural differences when interacting with the public.
It's about how to be sensitive to different cultures and religions when we're giving a service to them," says Bellal. "
The population of Canada has changed, so we must adapt our policing approach."
Following the Quebec City shooting, reaching out to the community was simple for the team, because they had already established bonds with them in the years leading up to the incident through awareness initiatives.
When you build strong relationships with the community and you have trust, then when good or bad things happen and you need them, they will be there," says Bellal. "
They will be open, they will be supportive and they will help you."
The team regularly visits communities throughout the province, attending events, talking to youth and holding open town halls to discuss their role and bring awareness to national security.
Early actions and detection will reduce the threat," says Fontaine. "
And this has to be based in our communities. It's a shared responsibility, including the private sector, social agencies, schools, religious leaders, parents — everyone."