OTTAWA — Canadians must work harder to prevent young people from becoming radicalized instead of simply dealing with the aftermath, says an Ottawa imam.
There is little talk of steering vulnerable people away from extremism, Zijad Delic told the Senate national security committee Monday. Instead, the focus is on trying to deradicalize them after the fact.
Political leaders, social services, teachers and others need to “find ways of tackling” the lure of extremism, Delic said.
Last fall, the RCMP said it had some 63 active security investigations on 90 suspected extremists who intended to join fights abroad or who had returned to Canada.
The federal government has since introduced two bills aimed at reinforcing or expanding the ability of Canadian security agencies to investigate and deter terrorist threats.
Legislation tabled last Friday would give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service powers to actively disrupt threats, not just collect information about them. It would also make it easier for police to control the movements of terror suspects and to detain them longer without warrant.
Opposition MPs and civil liberties advocates expressed concern Monday the bill did not boost oversight of Canada’s spy agency — concerns the Conservative government quickly dismissed.
Delic’s comments came shortly after two Muslim organizations said they were deeply troubled by language Prime Minister Stephen Harper used in presenting the bill.
“It doesn’t matter what the age of a person is, or whether they’re in their basement, or whether they’re in a mosque or somewhere else,” Harper said Friday. “When you are engaged in activities that explicitly promote or advocate terrorism, that is a serious criminal offence no matter who you are.”
The National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Muslim Lawyers’ Association took offence Monday at the reference to mosques as seedbeds of terrorism.
“We remind the prime minister that Canadian mosques and Islamic associations across the country are at the forefront in confronting radicalization towards violent extremism and have and continue to work hand-in-hand with law enforcement and security agencies to promote public safety.”
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said it was irresponsible of Harper to “throw the mosques into his comments.”
“It was a form of Islamaphobia, and it was wrong.”
Harper did not say that all radicalization occurs in mosques, but that it could happen anywhere, said Carl Vallee, a spokesman for the prime minister. Harper has recognized the Muslim community for their efforts in fighting extremism, he added.
The federal government says it is working with communities to prevent radicalization and intervene when people show signs of turning to extremism.
It insists stronger security powers and tougher criminal penalties are also needed to stamp out Islamic extremism.
In the House of Commons, Liberal MP Ralph Goodale noted key allies have robust parliamentary oversight of their intelligence services — something he says Canada needs.
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney repeated his view that the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which reports to Parliament, has the expertise to keep an eye on CSIS.