Canada’s financial intelligence agency says it is actively helping police and spies follow the money flowing into the coffers of Islamic extremists fighting overseas.
The Ottawa-based Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, known as FinTRAC, has passed along information to investigators as part of the government’s effort to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, says centre director Gerald Cossette.
Many Canadians have never heard of the centre, which keeps a relatively low profile compared with other national security agencies.
However, financial intelligence has become a “key component” of terrorism investigations by the RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Cossette said during a recent talk hosted by Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.
“With ISIL, we have seen very clearly the devastation that terrorist groups can inflict when they have access to substantial resources,” he said.
The agency’s access to information about banking and other financial transactions allows it to see links between people and groups in Canada and abroad that support terrorist activities — including radicalized Canadians bent on waging guerrilla-style war in strife-ridden Iraq and Syria.
“Our main role in such an operation would be to respond, basically, to the demand for information from our security partners — be it CSIS or the RCMP,” Cossette said in an interview after the session.
“In fact, we did disclose to them information about a certain number of individuals already.”
The centre zeroes in on cash linked to terrorism, money laundering and other crimes by sifting through data from banks, insurance companies, securities dealers, money service businesses, real estate brokers, casinos and others.
Institutions must report large cash transactions or electronic fund transfers of $10,000 or more, as well as any dealings where there are reasonable grounds to suspect money laundering or terrorist financing.
In turn, FinTRAC discloses intelligence to law enforcement and national security partners.
Overall, the centre made 234 disclosures last year specifically related to terrorist financing and threats to the security of Canada — a 450 per cent increase from 2008.