The Canadian government has been in the counter terrorism (or countering violent extremism – CVE – as it is now known) for a long time. In addition to the hard response (CSIS, RCMP…) there is the softer approach. The latter involves engaging with Canadians and communities to talk about difficult issues like terrorism and radicalization. I think the government does a pretty good job most of the time.
Let me back up a bit. One of the initiatives brought in is the Cross Cultural Roundtable on Security (CCRS), struck in 2004. The roundtable is a mixture of government officials and community representatives that meet a few times a year to discuss security issues. I have been to many meetings, sometimes as an observer and sometimes as a subject matter expert and the CCRS has done some good work. Not surprisingly, there are disagreements and animosity on occasion, but why is that strange? When you bring together people from the variety of communities that is Canada, perfect harmony would be the exception.
One of the longest standing members of the CCRS is Hamilton lawyer and activist, Hussein Hamdani. He is also Muslim (full disclosure: I have known Mr. Hamdani for almost a decade and consider him a friend). In addition to his work on the CCRS he has assisted Public Safety Canada’s Citizen Engagement division in breaching the gap between government and communities through outreach events. He has also helped families cope with the loss of their sons and daughters to extremist groups when the youth leave Canada to join up. His contribution to national security has been significant.
Until the government suspended him in late April over allegations that he had links to “radical ideology”.
Whence the allegations? Point de Bascule, a “muckraking” web site in Quebec that I would place somewhere between the World Weekly News and the National Enquirer in terms of rigour and credibility.
Point de Bascule dug up some statements Mr. Hamdani made in university in the 1990s and labelled him a Hamas supporter and said he called for the “Islamicization of Canadian university campuses”. Gee, what did I say in 1978 at UWO that I would shrink at now?
Now, Mr. Hamdani and I have not always agreed on everything. But I consider him a valuable partner in the government’s efforts to engage the Muslim communities. Perhaps the most valuable.
Why was he suspended from the CCRS? Point de Bascule’s allegations are not new: earlier claims did not lead to action. Was the move political? Mr. Hamdani has speculated that his support for the federal Liberal party may have something to do with it.
At the end of the day, I don’t care what the reasons were. All I know is that a hardworking Canadian was thrown under the bus and the credibility of the government in its attempts to reach out have been called into question. If this government really wants to nip terrorism in the bud it might want to consider treating its partners better.