Fed up

I don’t normally pay attention to what politicians say, especially during an election campaign, but someone alerted me (thanks to whomever that was!) to an interview this morning (August 15) with Defence Minister Jason Kenney on CBC’s The House.  In the exchange, which covered a number of items (the economy, Mike Duffy…), the Minister talked about the Harper government’s campaign against IS and threw in a few remarks about CVE (countering violent extremism).  For the record (you can catch the entire segment here), Mr Kenney shared the following tidbits with Canadians:

  • it’s naive to think the government can stop young people from being radicalized by extremist groups like ISIS,
  • young people who are susceptible to extremist views are, by definition, “not prone to listen to messages coming from organs of the state,”
  • the best way to diminish that power is to demonstrate that ISIS is on “the losing side of history” and to show the extremist group for what it is, “a bunch of thugs and terrorists,” and
  •  that (CVE) should be left with spiritual leaders, parents and others within the relevant communities.

There is a lot here to unpack and to be honest, I do not disagree fundamentally with most of it.  As a former employee of an “organ of the state” (Public Safety Canada), I was under no illusions that I or my colleagues could prevent anyone from doing anything in an extremist vein.  And Mr. Kenney is 100% right that the best voices are those from communities.  So, do I find myself in agreement with the Harper government’s approach to violent extremism in Canada?

Not really.

For as much as I accept that the federal government is NOT the right player at the counter-radicalisation table, this particular administration has gone out of its way to alienate the very communities that the Minister says are the keys to success.  How so?

  • it threw a valuable community player (Hussein Hamdani) under the bus based on outrageous allegations from a non-credible source (see my blog No way to run a railroad) and has hence lost all credibility;
  • it encouraged a slate of Senate recommendations that infringe on freedom of worship;
  • it keeps coming up with legislation that criminalises or demonises cultural and other practices that have nothing to do with terrorism; and
  • it uses language that offends when perfectly good alternatives are available.

So, in essence, Mr. Kenney is right: the feds have no role to play because they have been undermining themselves for years.  But at the end of the day, there is something the government can do: get behind the local initiatives that work.  I have been privy to many such efforts across Canada that are not looking for government control but could sure benefit from some help (financial, logistic, promotional, etc.).  A bit of assistance will go a long way.

But this government appears to have cast CVE into the garbage.  It has put all its eggs in the detention and incarceration basket (don’t get me wrong, these are absolutely necessary on occasion) despite everyone’s acceptance that we can’t “arrest” our way out of this problem.

AQ- or IS-inspired radicalisation and extremism is a difficult problem that defies simple solutions.  We need to have a variety of tools and approaches to deal with it.  We will never make progress if we treat each case as a nail and our only implement is a hammer.

Too bad our politicians can’t see that.

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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