New counter-radicalization office aims to catch potentially violent extremists

June Chua
The office of Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, seen here on Feb. 3 in the House of Commons, says they are planning to open a counter-radicalization centre in the coming months to deal with extremism. Photo from The Canadian Press

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says his department’s forthcoming outreach office will help identify lone wolf terror threats to hopefully prevent attacks like the one that left six Muslim men dead at the mosque where they were praying in Quebec City on Jan. 29.

In an interview with Global News, Goodale said his government is planning to set up a centre for community outreach and counter-radicalization. The goal would be to “find a way to detect this behaviour better … and then to identify the right ways, with the right people at the right time to intervene in that behaviour, before it leads to tragedy,” Goodale told Global News.

Accused shooter Alexandre Bissonette, 27, has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder in the Sainte-Foy neighbourhood mosque attack. As the Globe and Mail reports, the suspect’s online behaviour demonstrated views supporting the far-right politics of France’s National Front Leader Marine Le Pen, U.S. President Donald Trump, as well as a distaste for refugee and immigration programs.

Goodale reiterated that the focus would be on radicalization of any kind and not just about individuals or groups being influenced by the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria group.

“The most effective means of countering radicalization to violence begins in the community and involves working with leaders to develop intervention programs,” Goodale’s office wrote in a statement sent to Yahoo Canada News.

“We want Canada to be a world leader in countering radicalization.”

Goodale’s office also said they will be co-ordinating federal, provincial and international initiatives, with an initial budget of $35 million over a five-year period. The location of the centre and its opening date has yet to be announced. According to the minister’s office, it will be open in “the next few months.”

“There is no recipe for someone being radicalized,” said Marian Misdrahi, program co-ordinator at the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence in Montreal. The centre, which is backed by the city and the Quebec government, was established in November 2015. It has a 24-hour hotline to help families worried about children or relatives who may be becoming extremist.

“There is no typical profile,” Misdrahi told Yahoo Canada News. “It can happen to anyone.” 

Hate speech growing

Misdrahi says she’s worried about the acceptance of hate speech in modern society. The growing tolerance for it has meant that early detection of radicalization has been made more difficult, she explains.

“Since the attack at Sainte-Foy, we’ve had a lot more phone calls from people noticing hate speech,” she said. “They tell us: ‘I didn’t think much of it before, but with the mosque attack, I think you should check this hate speech online.”

Misdrahi reveals there are certain things in the study of radicalization that most experts understand.

“We know everything starts with someone questioning their social situation and having a feeling of not belonging or having no opportunities or equal rights,” she explained.

Then, the person starts looking for answers — they have a kind of “identity crisis,” which precipitates their search and for a social network that supports their grievances.

“Under certain circumstances, a person can be radicalized,” she said. “Their family is not stable, they are isolated and have issues dealing with people in general due to their personality.”

But these factors don’t always lead to extremism, Misdrahi notes.

“There are people who go through this process but never get radicalized.”

Watch for red flags

When does it become clear that someone is about to cross that line into violent behaviour? Misdrahi says it begins with a person cutting ties to their regular life.

“They start cutting out people, friends, family members who don’t adhere to the way they think,” she said. “Their world becomes black and white — if you don’t have the same perspective as me, then you are out. That’s a big, red flag.”

Misdrahi reveals the best way to counter and prevent radicalization is to make sure the community is aware of how it happens and how to detect the signs.

“We need the community to be the [eyes and ears] and to catch those early signs and to call us.”

So far, the centre has received 1,242 inquiries from the public and 411 that “might involve radicalization” since it opened.