Why Canada’s Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence is in the wrong department 

Phil is a friend of mine and I have great respect for the work he did while in government and the analysis and commentary he is doing outside.

His logic is sound in having community engagement and deradicalization outside of Public Safety, to distinguish the security function and  community support/resilience-building. As Phil and I have discussed, in theory, Canadian Heritage would be a good home for all the reasons he lists.

But with respect for the people who work in Canadian Heritage, the department, as constituted, is not equipped to provide strong leadership in this area given its focus on its core mandate.

The area that could have possibly taken this on – multiculturalism – has been largely decimated following the 2008 transfer to then CIC (IRCC) and return back to Canadian Heritage in 2015:

First of all, kudos to the Trudeau government for its commitment to the Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence (CCCEPE—that name is way too long, however). The $35-million over five years is an excellent start and, although details are wanting, the government sees the new office  as a leadership post for Canada’s efforts.

This move represents a significant shift in Canada’s prevention of violent extremism approach from the purely hardline emphasis of the Harper government to a more inclusive and more comprehensive one under the new regime. As I have said before, we will always need the hardline tool, but we need to do more in early intervention and counter-radicalization.

One question remains: where should this new office reside? When I was still with the federal government it was housed where it is now, within Public Safety Canada. In some ways, it should stay there if for no other reason than  that department has experienced and capable staff who were part of the amazing success of the shortened efforts under Harper.

But in other and more important ways it should be moved to another department. Let me try to explain why.

Aside from getting a brand new start and being able to put the unfortunate mistakes of the previous government behind us, the biggest drawback to leaving Canada’s Prevention of Violence strategy with Public Safety lies with the very nature of that ministry. Public Safety Canada is the umbrella department for CSIS, the RCMP, Correctional Services Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency. All these are staffed by dedicated and professional people but they have one underlying commonality: they are all enforcement/punitive agencies. The Prevention of Violence strategy needs to be seen as an opportunity to occur before people engage in activities that are the remit of CSIS and the RCMP in order to work. We have seen in other places like the U.K. with its PREVENT program (which is housed within that country’s version of Public Safety) that communities associate PVE with intelligence gathering and enforcement, whether or not that is what is happening.  Having a ministry responsible for the national spy and law enforcement agencies run PVE creates a stigma that can hamper even the best efforts.  If communities do not feel comfortable and have issues of trust with certain partners, they will not want to participate.

What if the government were to put the new office under the Heritage portfolio? PVE is all about providing communities with the tools to foster Canadian citizenship and reject the empty and violent promises of groups like Islamic State. It is about being or becoming Canadian. Another aspect is the debate over narratives. I have long argued that we need to move away from “counter narratives” to “alternative narratives.” Alternative narratives are an important part of PVE—what better place to locate them than within Heritage, the department that helps foster the Canadian narrative? Our narrative is so superior to that of the Islamic State that if this were a boxing match the referee would have called the fight years ago.

Of course, those with lots of experience in PVE, especially the RCMP which has a longstanding and robust outreach program, would be asked to lend its assistance and best practices. Other partners could also contribute. Canada is—or rather was—a world leader in PVE and many countries look to us for models on what to do. We don’t need to reinvent it, we just need to tweak it to make it better.

At the end of the day it may not matter where the government decides to put PVE. Only time will tell. I am glad to see that those in the centre already recognize some important aspects on how to implement their strategy (tailor the approach to match local conditions, acknowledge that the government does not have the credibility to do PVE, etc.).  Evaluation and measurement of what works and what doesn’t will be critical.  Lots of people put their hands out when government funding is provided and the centre has to ensure that the right people are getting that money. The important thing is that it cultivate good relations with the communities it hopes to work with for the best answers to violent radicalization and extremism are to be found there, not in a government policy brief.

Source: Why Canada’s Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence is in the wrong department – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

ICYMI: Deradicalization must be tailored to Canadian cities, says expert

Sounds sensible but will leave it to others with more expertise to comment:

The radicalization of young Canadians is most often a local problem that requires programs tailored to specific cities, towns or even neighbourhoods.

That’s one the preliminary findings by the Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence.

The federal government set aside $35 million over five years for the centre, which was announced in August 2016. It works within the Department of Public Safety to provide training, support research and provide national leadership on counter-radicalization strategies for provinces, territories and municipalities.

“There’s a whole number of risk factors, and that’s the challenge — there’s no agreement on what the best assessment tool is or what all the risk factors are,” Ritu Banerjee, executive director of the centre, told CBC News.

People may be exposed to an assortment of extreme views, from Islamism to neo-Nazism, online, through their family, at their place of worship or school or in all these areas.

“So what you do out in Calgary might not necessarily work in Montreal or may not necessarily work in Moncton. So you have to be conscious of the local realities and the local needs,” said Banerjee.

More than a year after the creation of Canada Centre, the government has yet to fill the top job of special adviser, who would formally shape and oversee the centre’s work.

A senior government source with knowledge of the file told CBC News the government had tentatively filled the job earlier this year but the candidate backed out. The search has been renewed and the department said it expects to fill the job by the end of the year.

Social workers on front lines

Meanwhile, Banerjee and her staff have approved funding for several projects through the agency’s community resilience fund. One initiative in Montreal trains front-line social workers who deal with vulnerable youth but likely were never educated about terrorism and national security threats.

“They’re familiar with gang-related violence, they may be familiar with drugs, mental health issues, but the minute you start talking about terrorism, people get scared or people get nervous. So they need specialized support and training,” Banerjee said.

Another of Canada Centre’s early takeaways is that governments are not well placed to debate extremist ideologies.

“We recognize that it’s very difficult for a government to do that because we don’t have the credibility to do that and it would be perceived as propaganda,” Banerjee explained.

“Counter-arguments to a stated proposition have to be very much tailored to a specific audience. You have to be very careful and thoughtful about the approach you use, whether it’s face-to-face, whether it’s online and if you’re doing it online, what platforms you use. And then, who is actually delivering the message.”

Banerjee says research suggests intervening early to teach children how to think critically and be digitally literate is key to building community resilience to extremism.

Source: Deradicalization must be tailored to Canadian cities, says expert – Politics – CBC News

‘Before tragedy strikes’: Liberals launch centre to prevent homegrown terrorism – Politics – CBC News

Good and appropriate that it includes all forms of radicalization and violent extremism:

The federal government has launched a new centre tasked with preventing the radicalization of Canadian young people.

A special adviser will be named in the coming months to oversee the local outreach and research projects funded through the Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence.

The centre will have dedicated staff, but will be located within the existing Public Safety Canada space.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Canada must become a world leader in understanding and dealing with radicalization that leads to violence, in order to retain its national character as an open, diverse society that is also safe and secure.

“The new Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence will help us do as much as humanly possible to prevent radicalization to violence before tragedy strikes,” Goodale said in a statement. “It will support and empower local leaders to develop initiatives that are suited to their community.”

Last year’s budget set aside $35 million over five years and $10 million each year after to combat radicalization and violence in Canada.

Ontario Liberal MP Arif Virani, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of heritage (multiculturalism), said the new centre will drive better research, understanding and engagement, with a special focus on youth vulnerable to radicalization. Building up trust relationships and opening lines of communication are critical to combating radicalism at the ground level, he said.

No boundaries to extremist views

The centre will not focus on Islamist extremism alone, but will cover a wide spectrum, because while some attacks are perpetrated by Islamist extremists, others target Muslims, Virani said.

“When we look at what’s happening across the country, radicalization is not endemic to any one group, institution, race or religion,” he said. “It doesn’t have particular boundaries that are tied to a religion or an ideology. That’s very important to keep in mind because that’s a situation we need be upfront about in terms of where the threats are coming from and not focusing on any one particular community.”

In January, six people were killed and 19 others injured in an attack by a gunman at a Quebec CIty mosque.

Source: ‘Before tragedy strikes’: Liberals launch centre to prevent homegrown terrorism – Politics – CBC News