Stir crazy?

I see that a Canadian arrested a few months ago and awaiting trial on terrorism charges has been beaten up in an Ottawa detention centre.  This individual, Carlos Larmond, was allegedly attacked by inmates who were tired of his attempts to recruit “soldiers of Islam” and for threatening non-Muslim prisoners (see story here).  It is interesting to note that Carlos is a convert to Islam and was thus until recently a “non-Muslim” – the very people he is reportedly threatening now.  This says a lot about how some converts are over the top zealots.

The bigger issue, however, and one that raises a lot of concern in some circles, is that of prison radicalisation.  By that I mean do we have a serious problem in our correctional facilities where inmates are engaged in recruiting and indoctrinating other prisoners?  It is certainly a worry in other countries.

Thankfully, for the time being, that is not the case in Canada.  And that is due to a number of factors in our correctional system.

a) first and foremost, there are very few people behind bars who have been convicted in Canada under section 83 of the Criminal Code (that’s the part which covers terrorism).  The fewer people in jail with violent ideologies, the less their impact

b) secondly, those who have been convicted on terrorism charges and incarcerated have generally been kept isolated from the general prison population.  This prevents contamination.

c) thirdly, Correctional Services Canada deserves a lot of credit.  They put in place research and training about radicalisation well before most of the first convicted terrorists came into their institutions.  Foresight led to good practices.

If there is one thing that gives me pause is the fact that the majority of those accused of these kinds of crimes usually spend time in provincial jails (“remand centres”) before their trials and eventual placement in federal institutions.  These centres tend to cater to a very transient population as people who have committed a wide variety of offences come and go.  Hence these people are much harder to keep track of in the event they have been influenced by an alleged extremist.  Also, the centres are subject to provincial rules and regulations and may not benefit from the experiences of their federal partners.  Training for officers in these institutions should probably be enhanced.   The institution where Mr. Larmond was attacked was one of these centres after all.

But let’s not forget that we here in Canada have nowhere near the problem of radicalisation and prison proselytisation that institutions in France and the UK have.  The former, in particular, is dealing with a threat that at times seems endemic to its prisons.

So let’s congratulate ourselves on a job well done so far.  And let’s not be held captive to unfounded fears.

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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