If I were Minister of Public Safety for a day

The Canadian Minister of Public Safety, Ralph Goodale, will make some comments later today on the Liberal government’s plans on counter radicalisation.  The Liberals have promised to create a centre of excellence, to be known as the Office of the Coordinator for Counter Radicalisation and Community Engagement, to be housed within his department. The Minister has been talking of this initiative for some time, and reiterated his government’s commitment to do so in the wake of last week’s thwarted terrorist attack in Strathroy, Ontario, and will hopefully give some more details this afternoon in Montreal at a relatively new deradicalisation centre.

I have publicly supported this idea and already provided some views on it (see previous blog here).  I want to take up this issue once more, in the form of “If I were the Minister, I would…”  We will see if these recommendations, offered gratis and unsolicited, are picked up later today.

There are a few fundamental aspects that should be provided in this initiative, the absence of which will have a negative effect on the scope and success of what the government is seeking to do.  These are:

  • the government footprint has to be small. Beyond a coordination and (partial) funding role, no government bureaucracy is well-placed to deal with the counseling and mentoring of those who are violently radicalised.  The role of the RCMP and CSIS is investigatory, not social.  Communities and grass root organisations know who is who and – one hopes – what is needed
  • having said that, the government needs to choose its partners on the ground very, very carefully.  It is my experience that those who immediately jump up to say they “represent” community X generally represent only themselves.  There are some awesome people in Canada and it is those that should get funding and support, provided they present credible, well-thought out ideas
  • the government should build on the groundbreaking work carried out by Public Safety Canada’s Citizen Engagement branch over the past few years (full disclosure: I worked with that team).  Their efforts at building trust and collaboration with communities was the envy of several of our partners.  Let us incorporate what they did, as well as the lessons learned from intervention programmes in Calgary and Toronot
  • the office has to have subject matter experts in it.  This topic is complicated and will not be effective if staffed with intelligent and well-meaning but inexperienced bureaucrats
  • the office cannot be seen as a panacea for radicalisation and terrorism.  It will work in some cases and not in others.  Those involved have to have the wisdom to call in the RCMP or other security bodies when it becomes clear that subjects are not responding to treatment
  • the new structure has to deal with all kinds of radicalisation to violence with the understanding that one particular brand – Islamist extremism – will take up the lion’s share of the attention and resources for the foreseeable future
  • one must is to develop measurement and effectiveness assessment.  Even if the public money alloted is modest, we need to know what works and what does not so we can adjust to make the programme better
  • there should be a research aspect to the initiative. I have been critical of some of the money spent on the former Kanishka project, but recognise that the five-year fund did take what was a research desert and create an embryonic security community. Now is the time to focus research questions and the new office can help with that
  • this has to be a “made in Canada” solution.  Yes, we can learn from what our Allies are doing but it must be tailored to the Canadian reality.

That is my shopping list.  I hope that the Minister has received good advice on this issue.  The government certainly has taken its time on this programme, but best to get it right from the outset.  As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.  Let us hope it is a good pudding.

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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