1st Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 150, Issue 171

Thursday, June 6, 2013
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

National Strategy on Radicalization

Inquiry—Debate Adjourned

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer rose pursuant to notice of April 25, 2013:

That she will call the attention of the Senate to radicalization in Canada, and the need for a national strategy that more proactively addresses terrorism by emphasizing a community-based approach to preventing radicalization and to facilitating deradicalization.

She said: Honourable senators, today I rise to discuss the ways we can prevent the radicalization of Canadian youth.

Governments around the world have accomplished much in this area already. Most of the efforts in Canada, however, are focused on police work and intelligence. We should work towards preventing radicalization before it becomes a problem of national security.

We are reminded of this problem by the involvement of four Canadians in the recent terrorist attacks in Algeria, by the recent arrests related to planned terrorist attacks on VIA passenger trains and by terrorist attacks in Boston and London.

Evidence concerning radicalization leads me to believe that a long-term and community-based strategy is needed. In addition, Canada must develop a national de-radicalization strategy.

To reach these conclusions, I will address three issues: First, I will discuss radicalization generally. What is radicalization? Who becomes radicalized, and where does it occur? Second, I will highlight current policies and programs of the government and where these efforts fall short. Third, I will put forth evidence-based policy recommendations based on social science and past experience in the area of radicalization.

To begin, what is radicalization? The RCMP defines it as “The process by which individuals — usually young people — [move] from moderate, mainstream belief towards extreme views.

However, it is often assumed that all radicals are violent. This is not true. Many people with radical ideas might never act upon them. Others might be working for positive change within their communities. Some of history’s most respected figures, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, were considered radicals in their time. In fact, many non-violent “radicals” can be powerful allies in combating terrorism.

Who becomes radicalized into violence? The challenge is to pinpoint radicals who are at risk of using violence.


Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the focus has been on the threat of Islamist terrorism. Numerous studies outline common risk factors. Male, middle-class and educated Muslims between 18 and 35; second- or third-generation immigrants; and recent converts to Islam are more vulnerable to being radicalized.

Stereotypes that radicalization is a result of Muslim immigrants failing to integrate into Canadian society are false. The truth is that most homegrown Canadian Islamist terrorists were born Canadian and raised and educated in Canada. One of the young men involved in the recent Algerian terrorist attacks was Xristos Katsiroubas, a 22-year-old Canadian male who grew up in a middle-class Greek and Canadian household in London, Ontario, and converted to Islam in his teens.

This has confirmed what evidence has long shown: There is no predictable pattern of radicalization; as such, racial profiling is not effective. The majority of people included within the common risk factors would be moderate and peaceful. Risk factors must be seen as permissive rather than casual. In other words, they establish a context where radicalization is more likely to occur, but not inevitable.

I must also reinforce the fact that radicalization is not a phenomenon of Muslims and Muslim converts; it occurs across religious divides. Individuals often share the common motivation of adventure and counter-culturalism. For example, Anders Breivik was a Norwegian radical convinced that Islam was destroying Western civilization. In 2011, he carried out attacks in Norway that killed 77 people.

We should not be naive enough to believe we can ignore right-wing radicals. Blood & Honour, an internationally recognized White supremacist hate group, has been linked to recent attacks in Canada.

In 2012, a Filipino man was drenched in kerosene and set on fire in Vancouver because of his ethnicity.

So-called groups like multi-issue groups such as Initiative de résistance internationaliste also pose a serious risk.

Left-wing militants have been responsible for nine bombings in Canada since 2004. They are motivated by a wide array of issues, such the environment, economic inequality, the prison industrial complex and the military.

Where does radicalization occur? Radicalization can occur in many places: in the family, peer groups, on the Internet or in prison. Evidence shows that group-level processes are the most important factor. More specifically, sociologists emphasize bonds of kinship and broader social networks as channels of radical ideas.

The most vulnerable individuals are searching for belonging within group identities. Ultimately, it is about whom you know. People have been radicalized by friends, parents, husbands, wives, and siblings.

One major venue for radicalization is within virtual commitments on the Internet. Author Marc Sageman observes that the most dangerous terrorists no longer answer to al Qaeda; they are self-recruited wannabes who find purpose in terror by connecting with their comrades on the Web. Radical entrepreneurs take advantage of this through online propaganda and instructions for building rudimentary explosives.

Another place where terrorism can occur is in prison. Prisoners often experience a psychological crisis involving feelings of rejection, isolation and insecurity. As a result, they are likely to adopt a new belief system as a coping mechanism. These new beliefs may involve extreme ideologies or religious interpretations that open the door to radicalization.

As a result, terrorist groups have used prisons as a recruitment tool. The problem has manifested in Canada with Ali Mohamed Dirie, who helped orchestrate the attempted Toronto-18 plot from prison. Crown Prosecutors stated that Dirie took an active role in recruiting other inmates to adopt extreme jihadi beliefs and join his terrorist group.

What are the policies and programs Canada has taken to address radicalization? Canada’s approach is found within the official Counter-Terrorism Strategy released in 2011. The core principle of the strategy is to build resilience against extreme ideologies and terrorism. The main elements include prevention, detection, denial and response.

Only prevention addresses radicalization. The other three elements of the Counter-Terrorism Strategy are reactionary. These strategies seek to identify and stop individuals from committing terrorism, and respond quickly to attacks if they are carried out.

Nobody would dispute the importance of ensuring the immediate safety of Canadians and prosecuting individuals for terrorist activities. The importance of this was demonstrated by the Toronto 18. Effective investigations by our police and intelligence services prevented a major attack in Canada.

However, these strategies must work alongside prevention. A proactive strategy that focuses on root causes of terrorism will help prevent future attacks. Prevention addresses radicalization by focusing on the motivations of those who may engage in terrorism.

To accomplish this task, the government has aimed to engage with individuals and communities, while offering alternatives to extremist ideologies.

There are two main initiatives in this area. First, the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security brings together community members and public officials to work on long-term national security issues. The roundtable has concluded that the government must engage and communicate with communities at risk of radicalization. The roundtable used to submit reports to the government, which may consider the conclusions when developing policy. However, at the moment, there is no indication that the government has ever implemented the advice provided in these reports.

Honourable senators, the roundtable should be a basis for real action. Some time ago, I asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate what the status of the roundtable was. I cannot report back today, because we have not heard back from her as of yet. The roundtable can be very instrumental in bringing security into our communities. It should not be an act of empty symbolism and token engagement to validate the government’s lack of action.

Second, the RCMP’s National Security Community Outreach program uses initiatives to address radicalization at the community level. A major part of this focuses on young adults between the ages of 14 and 30. Initiatives include classroom presentations, workshops, focus groups and outreach with local community groups.

However, the RCMP itself has admitted that any counter-radicalization program “must be delivered, not by the police, the security services, or any other ‘official’ agency, but rather by affected communities themselves.” That is what the RCMP says. It has to be delivered by the affected communities themselves.

This does not mean that the government should not have a role. On the contrary, it must engage with communities and provide them with the means to address radicalization independently.

Demos, an independent think-tank, reported that Canada’s counter-radicalization strategy is not focused enough. We have failed to distinguish between violent and non-violent individuals. Confusing nonviolent with violent radicalization risks stigmatizing Muslim communities. Direct prevention work, particularly when carried out by police agencies, should only occur when individuals are clearly being radicalized into violence. Indirect prevention work focuses on the underlying factors: education, religious training and other social factors.

Since these initiatives inevitably include individuals not at risk of radicalization into violence, they should be separated from a national security agenda. This will help ensure communities are not stigmatized.

I wish to present some policy recommendations to confront radicalization. There should be two central objectives: the prevention of radicalization into violence, and the disengagement of radicalized individuals.

As I have highlighted, radicalization is a highly complex issue that defies simplistic categorization. As a result, prevention will be an immense challenge. Rather than depend solely on police work and intelligence, the primary work should be done by the communities. Multiple departments of the government must work to help communities address radicalization independently.

In 2010, the Sanford School of Public Policy carried out a study called the Anti-Terror Lessons of Muslim-Americans. The authors note that only a very small minority of Muslims are at risk of radicalization into violence.

We might ask the question: Why do so few Muslims radicalize into violence? The answer is that Muslim communities are already resistant to violent radicalization, primarily because of public and private denunciations of terrorism and violence; self-policing; community building; political engagement; and identity politics.

Many of these activities have gone unnoticed, but they should be the foundation for how we move forward. In other words, as parliamentarians we have many lessons to learn from communities to prevent radicalization. The government should reinforce their progress.


The Sanford School of Public Policy report recommends the following actions: encouraging political mobilization of Muslims by engaging them with public officials; publicly promoting and referencing community denunciations of violence; reinforcing self-policing by improving the relationship between law enforcement and Muslim communities; assisting community-building efforts through youth and childcare facilities, health clinics, and language training; promoting outreach and collaboration of social service agencies with communities, such as health care and education; supporting enhanced religious literacy, which reinforces the observation that strict religious training reduces the likelihood of radicalization into violence; and increasing civil rights enforcement to address the suspicions many Muslims have towards the government.

These steps should form the basis for the prevention of radicalization into violence. It would require the involvement of multiple agencies and departments. The focus will be on enhancing the independent capacity of communities to challenge radicalization.

That brings me to the next issue. Canada has no national de-radicalization strategy. How do we expect to help individuals disengage from violent ideologies? We must develop a rehabilitation policy specifically geared for radicalized individuals. This policy would work to help them change their attitudes towards violence and divert them from terrorism.

Lessons from gang intervention programs are valuable in this regard. These programs focus on “push” and “pull” factors. Push factors are negative incentives that would make it unattractive to continue involvement in terrorism. These may include prosecution or social disapproval. However, research has shown that negative incentives, by themselves, have limited success. A common reason individuals join terrorist organizations is because of brotherhood and belonging.

Therefore, push factors must be combined with pull factors, which are positive incentives to pursue an alternate lifestyle. These may include having new role models, promising employment or education prospects, or an attractive non-violent ideology. Evidence shows that these factors are more durable in achieving de-radicalization.

International practice has demonstrated that de-radicalization programs focusing on push and pull factors can be successful. Specific programs often include individual counselling, social services, and religious dialogue focusing on the idea that offenders were tricked into believing a false interpretation of Islam. An alternative interpretation is provided.

In some countries, families of offenders are provided with schooling, health care and financial assistance. After release from prison, those who are successful in the de-radicalization program are provided with job training and government subsidies to pay for cars and apartments.

Local de-radicalization programs in Canada also provide observations that we should consider.

In Toronto, the Masjid-El-Noor mosque has developed its own de-radicalization program. The program offers a 12-step process that provides radicalized individuals with treatment and counselling to counter jihadist ideology.

Local and international practice provides a model to develop a national de-radicalization program for convicted offenders. Tailored rehabilitation programs through our correctional services are particularly important. This would reduce the risk of terrorist groups using prison as a recruitment tool.

Honourable senators, we must do more to address the complex and frightening prospect of radicalization. I stand in front of you as a practising Shia Imami Ismaili Muslim. I am a follower of His Highness the Aga Khan. In my faith we are taught that Islam is a religion of peace. Unfortunately, people use my faith to maim and kill. I, as a Canadian, stand in front of you and say, honourable senators, as parliamentarians we have a duty to prevent radicalization of our citizens.

For a number of years I have worked with moderate Muslim women in the Middle East and Pakistan. I have visited Pakistan and have seen what the U.K. government and the German government have done to prevent radicalization in that country so that it does not get brought into their countries, that is, Germany and the United Kingdom. I have worked with American organizations that are trying to prevent radicalization around the world.

I want to share with you one experience. I was in Peshawar working with a woman by the name of Mossaret Qadeem, with whom I still work. Mossaret is the most courageous woman I have ever met in this world. She goes into prisons where people have been convicted of terrorist acts and debriefs these terrorists. She comes to the U.S. and trains the U.S. marines and armed forces on how to debrief terrorists.

When I go with Mossaret in Peshawar, she works with the mothers. Her theory is that if you work with the women in the community, you can stop terrorism.

Senator Segal has been very supportive of my work. I have encouraged him that we, as the Senate, need to look at what we can do with the women. Mossaret has taught me that when a mother notices that a child has too many guns, that a child has too much money in his hand, there is something wrong, as only a mother can tell.

However, where can a mother turn? We need to set up a place that a mother can phone and say, “I think something has gone wrong.” If the mother had the trust that her son would not be killed, she would turn in her son. That is what my friend Mossaret Qadeem does in Peshawar.

Honourable senators, I stand in front of you and say that we can no longer ignore the radicalization of our youth. We do that at our peril. Therefore, I respectfully ask honourable senators to turn the attention of the Senate to radicalization in Canada and the need for a national strategy that will more proactively address this terrorism by emphasizing a community-based approach to preventing radicalization and facilitating de-radicalization.

Thank you very much.

(On motion of Senator Segal, debate adjourned.)