Counselling as important as criminal charges for radicalized Muslims returning to Canada: Report

Sensible recommendations:

Ottawa needs a more humane approach to effectively deal with terrorism cases, including court-ordered therapy for at-risk individuals and counselling — not just criminal charges — for those coming back from Syria and Iraq, according to a new report.

The recommendations are contained in an in-depth account of how a group of young Muslims from Quebec were, according to police allegations, radicalized by charismatic preachers, peer pressure and polarizing political debates, and attempted to flee the country in 2015 for the ranks of Daesh, the terror group also known as the Islamic State.

Eleven of the people who are the focus of the report — six females and five males — attended the same school, Montreal’s Collège de Maisonneuve. Four of them were among 10 stopped at the Montreal airport just before boarding a flight for Turkey, which borders Syria, police have alleged. Two others are facing criminal terrorism charges in Quebec.

But five students who disappeared in January 2015 made it to Syria and Iraq and some of them now regret their decision and want to return home, said Benjamin Ducol, head of research for the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence, which prepared the report.

“That leaves us with some issues in terms of how we are going to bring them back. Do they pose a security threat? I’m sure some of them have been really traumatized by what they have seen and what they have done there,” he said.

The report, which was commissioned by Collège de Maisonneuve, is based on interviews with family, friends and acquaintances of the students, as well as officials at the school.

The report estimates that up to 250 Canadians have travelled to Syria and Iraq, including up to 30 from Quebec.

Some may want to return because of remorse or family pressures, disillusionment with life in a war zone, fear of injury and death, or due to more nefarious plans to conduct attacks in Canada, the report says.

 But they may waver out of fears they will be arrested or killed by the groups they try to desert, or the likelihood of arrest upon their return to Canada, the report said. Others may be worried about being labelled a national security threat or having to pay back the financial debts incurred to fund their initial voyage, it read.

There must be legal consequences, the report said, but it is folly to prosecute young radicals without also trying to reason with them and offer rehabilitation.

“The conviction of radicalized individuals cannot be society’s end goal,” it says. “Our system of justice has long recognized the importance of working towards the social reintegration of offenders.”

Source: Counselling as important as criminal charges for radicalized Muslims returning to Canada: Report | Toronto Star

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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