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  • The Government would like your views about what shape a national strategy to counter radicalization to violence should take. In particular, it is looking to identify policy, research and program priorities for the Office of the community outreach and counter-radicalization coordinator. What should the priorities be for the national strategy?

The mandate should be the prevention of violence, period. The government’s focus on “radicalization to violence” rather than violence itself is counter-productive, stigmatizing for the populations targeted and a slippery slope. The United Kingdom government has already gone that way, moving from their already very controversial de-radicalization programs, Prevent and Channel, to a recent emphasis on combating “non-violent extremism.” The government defines this as “opposition to fundamental British values.” “British values” (just like “Canadian values”) have never been properly defined, and by branding all opposition to them as extremist, the government is effectively outlawing dissent.

We have seen an alarming trend in governments’ discourses – including our own – toward marginalizing protesters and activists (especially students, Native peoples and environmentalists), as well as rising islamophobia in Canada. In this context, we must stay away from any language or methodology that conflates particular ideas, political leanings or religious beliefs with radicalism and a propensity for violence.

Finally, more and more studies have shown that there are no accurate profiles for terrorists and no definite indicators for “radicalization.” Studies have also disproved the links between religious beliefs and terrorism. Moreover, a recent FBI study into what motivates terrorist actions has found that the largest factor (although it was only in 18% of cases) is oppressive and structurally violent domestic and foreign policies put forward by governments, and the violent quashing of dissent against those same policies. The government of Canada must therefore make it a priority to ensure all policies are not only respectful of human rights, but also contribute to promote and further them.

  • What should the role of the Government be in efforts to counter radicalization to violence?

The Government should take a leading role in challenging the fear-mongering which leads to suspicion of other cultures or religions, profiling of communities, and hate speech/hate crimes. Terrorist violence and individuals allegedly traveling to join terrorist groups abroad are much rarer occurrences than racist or sexist violence. An office that focuses almost solely on radicalization to violence linked to “Islamist” terrorism would simply contribute to solidifying the fear of terrorism, and stigmatize Muslim communities. The Government should instead create a national plan for the prevention of all forms of violence, focusing on both speech that calls for or promotes violent acts as well as, of course, acts of violence themselves – including police brutality and violence against women, specifically violence against Indigenous women. Such a body should also have an anti-oppressive framework in general and take a clear position against sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic and islamophobic speech. The government and its institutions should also lead by example and be respectful of human rights and repair the damage and abuse that’s been done in the past, especially regarding the abuses committed in the name of national security as well as the treatment of Canada’s Indigenous communities.

  • Research and experience has shown that working with communities is the most effective way to prevent radicalization to violence. How can the Government best work with communities? How can tensions between security concerns and prevention efforts be managed?

Prevention of violence is a social issue, different from policing. Police should be involved only if there is a real risk of violent actions. Otherwise, the involvement of police can be counter-productive, as we have seen in several US Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs, where individuals do not want to discuss their views due to fears of surveillance or prosecution; for many legitimate reasons, they do not trust the police. We’ve also learned recently that former employees of the Centre de prévention de la radicalisation menant à la violence (CPRMV) in Montreal were pressured by the director of the centre to violate their code of ethics by sharing all confidential information obtained from allegedly radicalized individuals in a centralized file the director had access to, and refused to say how that file could or would be used.

The Government can instead help by adopting anti-oppressive and inclusive policies; increasing funding to social services, education, healthcare, housing; and by generally improving infrastructure, employment opportunities and living conditions for all.

  • Efforts to counter radicalization to violence cannot be one size fits all. Different communities have different needs and priorities. How can the Office identify and address these particular needs? What should be the priorities in funding efforts to counter radicalization to violence?

Assessing the particular needs of communities touched by violence is important. Consultations and studies are essential; it is important to note that many have already been carried out in the past by other organizations. However, moving forward, it is important that this work is not focused simply on radicalization to violence, but on the general needs of communities that will allow people to live better and healthier lives.

  • Radicalization to violence is a complex, evolving issue. It is important for research to keep pace. Which areas of research should receive priority? What further research do you think is necessary?

Studies have already shown there are no precise or full-proof indicators of radicalization. Any attempts to profile people for propensity to radicalization therefore becomes too broad and ends up targeting dissent. Providing funds for research into how to effectively counter hateful and violent narratives on the internet could be useful, but the main focus should be on how to effectively eliminate poverty, inequalities,  illness, and oppressions in general.

  • What information and other tools do you need to help you prevent and respond to radicalization to violence in your community?

For the most part, this question is for individuals to answer according to the needs of their own communities.

However, there are some over-arching concerns we’d like to highlight. At the forefront is how the language and definitions used by government and media, among others, can lead to the stigmatization of communities – and absolving others.

First, we support the National Council of Canadian Muslims in its call for media and government to use “Daesh,” rather than “Islamic State,” when describing the terrorist group. Doing so removes any legitimacy or credibility it received by referencing either Islam or being a state. It also makes clear that they are not representative of Islam or the Islamic community, in Canada or internationally.

Second, a reflection on the definition and application of the word “terrorism” is necessary. Government officials, politicians and the media described the violent acts perpetrated on Parliament Hill and in St-Jean sur le Richelieu in 2014 as “terrorist” acts. These incidents were carried out by two recently converted Muslim men who watched Daesh propaganda videos but had no links to the group, acted alone and possibly dealt with mental health concerns. But the term terrorism was not used in describing the actions of a Christian man who killed three RCMP officers in Moncton in 2014, despite his espousing plans to overthrow the government, nor in regards to two white supremacists who, in 2015, planned to open fire on people in a Halifax mall. In the latter case, then-Justice Minister Peter Mackay said that “terrorism” did not apply because there was no “cultural” element to their plan (ignoring the fact that “culture” is not included in the criteria for a terrorist act).

There exist many violent actions that cause fear and terror in our communities which would not legally qualify as “terrorism”, only furthering confusion and also division regarding what should be made a societal and governmental priority. For example, violence against women is widespread and must be addressed. And although eighty percent of these violent incidents occur in private residences, during the day, at the hands of men these women know, we collectively tell women that they must be afraid of strange men or to not go out alone at night. The actual violence and the overblown perception of the risk of violence put many women in a state of fear while out at night or in their general interactions with men. We would be much better served in addressing the root causes and de-mystifying violence that affects large parts of our society, rather than focusing on applying new, subjective labels.