The CBC reported that the RCMP in Quebec arrested 10 young people last weekend on suspicion that the youth were seeking to leave the country to join ISIS (see here).  These arrests are but the latest example of Canadians trying to hook up with the terrorist group.  The reasons for the surge are varied and will be discussed in future blogs.

What is most interesting about this particular incident, aside from the sheer number (10 at one time is really big – the last time we had a series of arrests this big was the Toronto 18 back in 2006 –  although it does not necessarily reflect the culmination of a single investigation), is the reaction of the Quebec government.

Here’s what Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard had to say:

“We always are concerned about this, given the fact that it seems to be our youth — born here — in our learning institutions. That is why we will come very soon with a policy that is going to be broad, that will also include the prevention, detection and also other measures from the legislative point of view.”

Details were lacking, but the upshot is that the provincial government is on the verge of getting into the counter radicalization business.  Kudos on the intent, but is it a good idea?  Full disclosure: I spent the past 18 months as an advisor at Public Safety Canada on the national Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) strategy.

The simple truth is that neither the Canadian nor Quebec government is not the ideal deliverer of CVE programming largely because these lack the required skillset.  Civil servants have neither the knowledge, background, credibility or full understanding to convince someone they are on a bad path.  Radicalization is a complex process, different for each individual, that brings in cultural, religious, political and psychological  aspects.  Each aspect has to be addressed by someone competent in that field.  Security and law enforcement don’t really have a role to play either – it’s not their mandate, although there are interesting Toronto Police and Calgary Police models that bring in community support.

Government does have a role to play, however, in encouraging, fostering and, if necessary helping to fund, grassroots initiatives.  People on the path to violent radicalization are best dealt with by people in their communities.  Many have a part to play: religious leaders, families, friends, mentors.  The younger the person, the more likely it is that a peer will be able to talk them down.  There is a promising initiative in Calgary, for instance, among a bunch of really bright youth led by Mehdi Qasqas.

More work needs to be done on the CVE front.  I am cautiously optimistic as communities now accept that radicalization is a problem in their midst.  I think we need to have realistic expectations though.  The earlier the intervention (i.e. the lower the level of radicalization) the higher the rate of success – maybe.

It bothers me that the ten people arrested in Monteral were at the airport – this points to a high level of commitment and radicalization.  I’m not sure whether we are talking counter-radicalization or de-radicalization in this case.  Let’s hope it’s the former.  Those that follow my blog already know my views on de-radicalization.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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