Jan 17, 2016

Thoughts on CASIS 2016

For those who missed it, the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies (CASIS) held its annual conference on Friday at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.  The CASIS conference has been around for quite some time and I remember attending 2-3 day events back in the 2000s where hundreds of participants signed up.  CASIS went through a tough time a few years back but I am happy to report that it appears to have rebounded nicely and this year’s offering was solid proof of that (full disclosure: I helped organise the conference and was a panel member).  Almost two hundred were in the audience and they did not walk away disappointed.

What struck me about Friday’s event was the robust Canadian contribution.  Yes, there were a few foreign speakers, and they were tremendous additions (Sweden’s Magnus Ranstorp and the US’ Barak Mendelsohn), but the Canadian content was stellar.  Aisha Ahmad of the University of Toronto and Jean-Francois Ratelle of the University of Ottawa gave compelling presentations on field work they have been doing in conflict zones such as Somalia and the Caucasus.  They are to be commended for their initiatives as well as for their courage in going to such dangerous areas.  Laval University’s Benjamin Ducol provided an interesting overview on how terrorist use of the Internet has evolved.  And my co-panelist, Amarnath Amarasingam, has been carrying out fascinating work with Canadians in IS and is giving us an important picture of who is there and what they are up to.  As usual, some of Canada’s leading terrorism and security reporters, Stewart Bell (National Post), Colin Freeze (Globe and Mail) and Jim Bronskill (Canadian Press), were on hand to tell Canadians what came out of the conference.  All in all a chance to show the red and white.

CASIS matters for a few reasons.  First of all, it is Canadian.  We do not give ourselves enough credit sometimes for what we know and what we are capable of.  Sure, CASIS is not the largest conference on terrorism out there, but it does attract name scholars.  I am pleased to see that this year’s offering featured so many Canadian experts.   Secondly, it provides an opportunity for students to see what the experts in the field think and what questions are being asked.  I saw a great many young scholars this year and had the opportunity to speak to a few.  I am encouraged that we are creating a new generation of curious people who will do the future research we need.  Thirdly, it is one of the best at gathering government, academic and private sector representatives to discuss important national security issues.  We need this and we need to be much better at opening the dialogue beyond the hush-hush star chambers of old.

So kudos to my colleagues on the organising committee: Greg Fyffe, Wesley Wark, Thomas Juneau, Laurie Storsater and Jez Littlewood.  Congratulations gentlemen on a stellar effort.  I already cannot wait for next year!