Québec’s Approach towards Violent Radicalization
Moving to the Front Row: Promoting Prevention over Repression
The creation of the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence (CPRLV) came about as a result of a combination of worldly and local events as well as a change with regards to how best to address issues of violent radicalization. As Canada fell prey to two terroristic incidents in October of 2014, in Ottawa and Saint-Jean sur Richelieu and taking into account the rise in youth departures to Syria/Iraq, concern has increased considerably in recent years. This context led to the realization that the prevention of such realities required a fundamental reassessment regarding the best way to tackle violent radicalization. Law enforcement entities, typically tasked with countering violent extremism, needed to take a back seat, their ability to effectively prevent violent radicalization drawing both criticism and doubt.
In response to this situation the city of Montreal, with the support of the government of Quebec, formed a 24/7 public helpline placed under the purview of a non-profit organization that is independent of all government agencies. Such a setting allows citizens to voice concerns about violent radicalization-like behaviours amongst their loved ones, friends, acquaintances or colleagues, and offers them an alternative to the law enforcement system. The helpline was launched in March 2015 at the same time as the CPRLV.
Alongside its mandate to man the helpline and assist citizens with any concerns related to… violent radicalization, three modules have been created… the Research Section provides expertise development and facilitates knowledge dissemination… Psychosocial Intervention Section is tasked with supporting, listening and counselling individuals and their relatives who are affected by violent radicalization… Prevention and Skills Development Section is tasked with developing and dispensing training and awareness workshops
Alongside its mandate to man the helpline and assist citizens with any concerns related to the phenomenon of violent radicalization, three modules have been created. The idea behind this three-fold structure is to feed on one another’s knowledge and to develop multidisciplinary expertise on radicalization leading to violence. Essential to the Centre’s need to increase its understanding of the local context in which violent radicalization evolves, the Research Section provides expertise development and facilitates knowledge dissemination; furthermore, it produces reports, as well as assisting with the other modules throughout its daily tasks. The Psychosocial Intervention Section is tasked with supporting, listening and counselling individuals and their relatives who are affected by violent radicalization. Last but not least, the Prevention and Skills Development Section is tasked with developing and dispensing training and awareness workshops to a wide variety of people. It also provides tailored training in order to address the needs and concerns of community and institutional organizations (public and private), who wish to gain a better understanding of the phenomenon.
When Semantics Matter: The ABCs of Radicalization
“It’s what we think we know
that keeps us from learning.”
The word “radicalization” has come to encompass a wide variety of meanings for different individuals, communities and states. Its contemporary understanding is too often publicly equated with negative connotations, brandished to provide meaning to spectacular and often poorly-understood terroristic events. Popular reasoning and rationalization for such events have often resulted in the direct or indirect stigmatization of specific communities, consequently engendering societal rifts and divisive discourses due to the incomprehension of apparently random and frightful events.
Defined as the process by which ‘‘individuals are introduced to an overtly ideological message and belief system that encourages movement from moderate, mainstream beliefs towards extreme views’’1 , radicalization is hence, first and foremost, a pacifist approach to protest, the latter term itself being intrinsically linked to the democratic principle of freedom of speech. Past “radicals” have therefore included the suffragette movement, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Charles Darwin and Galileo Galilei, to name a few. The term “radicalization” can therefore have a positive connotation, and can be capable of bringing about fundamentally beneficial societal changes. Radical viewpoints only become a problem when they approve of, or encourage, the use of violence or other forms of extremist behaviour, including terrorism and this is part of the Centre’s approach.
At the other end of the spectrum lies the concept of radicalization leading to violence, a phrase adopted by the Centre in order to communicate its dedication to the prevention of radicalization cases that are likely to engender the adoption of “an extremist belief system – including the intent to use, encourage or facilitate violence in order to promote an ideology, a political project or a cause as a means of social transformation.2” From the beginning, the CPRLV has strived to make social service, law enforcement, and community partners aware of its mission and innovative approach. Specifically, the CPRLV endeavours to educate and demystify popular understandings of radicalization leading to violence and the presupposed factors and causes that engender it. Hence, through workshops and consultations, the Centre continuously strives to juggle its educative role alongside its mandate to equip the community with the necessary tools to prevent and handle violent radicalization cases, whether related to far-right, extreme left, jihadist or single-issue ideologies.
Specifically, the CPRLV endeavours to educate and demystify popular understandings of radicalization leading to violence…through workshops and consultations …the Centre continuously strives to juggle its educative role alongside its mandate to equip the community with the necessary tools to prevent and handle violent radicalization cases.
Spreading the Word: Prevention through Education
“I did then what I knew how to do.
Now that I know better, I do better.”
There are five sets of partners that the Centre has identified as crucial audiences that need a better understanding of the concept of radicalization leading to violence, how this phenomenon manifests itself in susceptible individuals, and how the Centre addresses it: social service entities, law enforcement agencies, school personnel, workplace managers, professional orders and the community.
Social service entities comprise a fundamental set of partnering organisations involved in a variety of support functions and service provisions. These institutions comprise mental health and juvenile support services. Though their mandate derives from a will to provide support to both troubled youth and their families, the emergence of radicalization as a growing concern has forced them to adapt and re-evaluate their approach to needs-based interventions, a transition encouraged and justified by the CPRLV as necessary given the lack of experience these entities have had with ideologically-driven individuals. It therefore became apparent that the Centre’s main focus regarding its social service partners would be to reshape not only the understanding these entities have had of radicalization (which many conceived as directly correlated to religion) but also the different interactive and needs-based approaches required to efficiently tackle the phenomenon.
Equally fundamental is the law enforcement community whose diverse set of agencies have traditionally viewed radicalization through a policing and therefore repressive lens. The advent of the CPRLV and its focus on prevention meant that its Prevention and Skills Development Section can help to reshape provincial law enforcement communities’ (be it standard policing or correctional services) understanding of radicalization and insist on a greater need for identifying instances of emerging radicalization before they blossom into dangerous and potentially lethal situations. Trainings are therefore provided to law enforcement entities, providing them with the necessary tools to both understand and efficiently prevent instances of violent radicalization which often focus on the need to demystify several misconceptions with regards to what radicalization is and what the tell-tale signs of radicalization are.
Arguably one of the more concerned actors with violent radicalization has been schools, whose staff are on occasion privy to violent ideologically-driven discourse on the part of students. As such, a pressing need was felt, on the part of the CPRLV, to address schools’ concerns and offer assistance in the form of trainings and awareness workshops. As school staff are often unaware as to the motives and ideologies that drive young individuals to walk the path of violent radicalization, the approach of the Prevention and Skills Development Section is often oriented toward clarifying how violent radicalization comes about and why. Much like the partners and entities with which the Prevention and Skills Development Section unit works, the need for demystification is crucial.
Arguably one of the more concerned actors with violent radicalization has been schools, whose staff are on occasion privy to violent ideologically-driven discourse on the part of students
Workplace managers have also shown interest in benefiting from the workshops provided by the Prevention and Skills Development Section. Such trainings often focus on what violent radicalization implies and how it might manifest itself in a working environment. While the workshops necessarily focus on the topic of radicalization, greater emphasis is placed on the day to day workings of the Centre and how the latter balances intra-team cooperation and information sharing with their respective orders’ ethical guidelines.
Finally, it can be argued that the most important audience for the awareness efforts of CPRLV is the community in general. Community youth groups, advocates and representatives are essential to the CPRLV’s efforts to garner trust throughout the community and encourage citizens to contact the helpline for all concerns related to violent radicalization, be it the simple query of information or reporting worries they might have with regards to a loved one. Fostering trust with the community implies informing the public of the Centre’s activities and putting emphasis on its independent and confidential nature of all information it gathers through the helpline and strictly regimented cooperation with law enforcement agencies. A significant part of the Prevention and Skills Development Section is educating the public about violent radicalization and demystifying widespread media or popular misconceptions about what the term implies and other erroneous and often stigmatizing preconceptions.
The preventative role of the CPRLV therefore takes several forms. Raising awareness is the most essential element provided by every Prevention and Skills Development Section workshop. Fostering trust and a greater comprehension of the Centre’s mission amongst partners at all levels of society is crucial. Propagating a universal understanding of what violent radicalization is enables not only the Centre but all partners and actors concerned to become more efficient in their daily work and in stemming the tide of violent radicalization. Equally important is the need to counter and demystify preconceived notions with regards to radicalization. Political and media representations and debates surrounding the topic of radicalization have often yielded inflammatory and discriminating discourse and actions, leading to societal divisions and perceived stigmatization. Such factors, while claiming to have an educative value in the best interests of the public, are often blamed for fostering violent radical sentiment amongst segments of the populations who are perceived as targets. Such a climate fosters antipathy on both sides and plays a crucial role in the reasoning provided by many youth for their desire to join radical groups. The CPRLV’s educative work is therefore complemented by both approaches, a strategy which serves not only to stem the tide of violent radicalization, but also to foster harmony and understanding at all levels of society.
Herman Deparice-Okomba, Ph. D. Executive Director, Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence. A political scientist, Dr. Deparice-Okomba is a recognized specialist in intercultural relations, questions relating to radicali-zation, terrorism, discrimination and community-based policing. Before his appointment to the CPRLV in 2015, he was responsible for social files (racial and social profiling, community outreach, crime prevention, etc.) at the Montréal Police Department for ten years. He also managed the SPVM employee foundation for three years.
He is currently a lecturer at several universities on subjects dealing with terrorism and emergency management.