Monday, May 11, 2015

Bill C-51 and the Concept of "Counter-Radicalization"

May 12, 2014


The subject of countering "radicalization" and "violent extremism" was frequently addressed during the senatorial pre-study hearings on Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015. "Counter-radicalization" is being promoted as an integral part of the Canadian government's anti-terror strategy. 

This raises extremely important issues related to freedom of thought and conscience, and the right to privacy which are violated when the intelligence and security forces invade the lives of individuals under suspicion that their thinking and associations may lead them to commit a crime.

Appearing before the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence on March 30, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Steven Blaney stated that without Bill C-51, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service "can only collect intelligence; it cannot minimize the threat, unlike our allies."

He stated, "CSIS can only question a person with a goal to gathering intelligence but not dissuade the person from carrying out a terrorist activity. We cannot allow ourselves to underutilize this ability when a terrorist threat is developing. 

"This is why we want to ensure that our intelligence officers can intervene upstream in a radicalization process, for example, by turning to the parents whose child may be becoming radicalized. Currently, they cannot do so. This is a threat reduction activity."

Blaney added, "in the area of pre-criminalization, where we can intervene at an earlier stage and potentially prevent an individual from being criminalized, it's a good reason to have the capability to intervene with those who are at the beginning of the continuum of radicalization. We are working on many initiatives on the side of prevention and preventing radicalization."

Blaney said Bill C-51 "will allow our officers to be in a better position to intervene at an earlier stage in the radicalization process. We will therefore be in a position to reduce the radicalization phenomenon at source and avoid the criminalization of these people."

How the Canadian security forces will determine what particular political views and thoughts are indicators of "radicalization" that needs to be countered is a very big concern. This is especially the case when the Conservative government is reported to be cracking down on political activities such as boycotting Israel. Who will decide what is a legitimate political cause and what constitutes part of "the radicalization phenomena"?

"Counter-Radicalization" in Practice

The 2015 federal budget released April 21 allocates funds for RCMP "counter-radicalization" efforts or "countering violent extremism" (CVE), which is said to compliment increased CSIS and police powers by intervening in communities to combat "radical ideologies." 

Public Safety Canada defines "violent extremism" as "the process of taking radical views and putting them into violent action."

"Radical thinking... becomes a threat to national security when Canadian citizens, residents or groups promote or engage in violence as a means of furthering their radical political, ideological or religious views. The motivations and drivers that inspire them towards violent action may be due to real or perceived grievances, for example, animal rights, white supremacy, Al Qaida-inspired, environmentalism and anti-capitalism," states Public Safety on its website. 

"Prevention is a major aspect of countering violent extremism," says the federal department. "The Prevent element of the Counter-terrorism Strategy aims to get at the root causes and factors that contribute to terrorism by actively engaging with individuals, communities and international partners. Research is also critical to better understanding these factors and how to counter them."

New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair criticized Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015 for what he described as the government's failure to invest properly in counter-radicalization efforts. In the National Post he described what he thinks is lacking: "[G]overnment works to support community and faith leaders by connecting them with counter-radicalization experts, which provides information on recognizing the warning signs of radicalization and training in how to [defuse] it." He commented that "No stranger to the threat of terrorism, the United States under President Obama has taken a proactive approach to combatting radicalization."

An April 17 article by Belén Fernández published by Al Jazeera reveals the U.S. experience of what she calls the "CVE Industry." The field of domestic terrorism prevention, Fernández writes, is "one of refined Orientalist pseudoscience. Among its guiding texts is a 2007 manual, courtesy of the New York Police Department's Intelligence Division, which lists signs that an individual may be on a path to 'Jihadization.'

"According to the report, a person's 'progression along the radicalization continuum' can be signaled by 'giving up cigarettes, drinking, gambling and urban hip-hop gangster clothes' or 'becoming involved in social activism and community issues.'

"Beneath the invented technical jargon is an invitation to unabashed and limitless racial and religious profiling, with the apparent crime of being Muslim further underscored by an expansive list of 'radicalization incubators' and 'nodes' that can host the radicalization process. In addition to mosques, these include 'cafes, cab driver hangouts, flophouses, prisons, student associations, nongovernmental organizations, hookah (water pipe) bars, butcher shops and book stores.'"

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, like Public Safety Canada promotes a "prevention-focused, community-based approach to CVE, which will ideally render the members of said community 'more inclined to share suspicious information with law enforcement,'" writes Fernández.

Quoted in the Al Jazeera article, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) National Security Project Director Hina Shamsi told the author that CVE "does not include necessary safeguards to protect privacy and constitutional rights [and] risks treating people, especially young people, as security threats based on vague and virtually meaningless criteria."