(July 9, 2015) – The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), a prominent Muslim civil liberties & advocacy organization, expresses its profound disappointment with a Senate committee report released Wednesday that fails to offer effective, robust, community-based solutions to the challenge of violent extremism and risks further alienating Canadian Muslim communities.
“This report, while ostensibly about improving national security, in fact stigmatizes and marginalizes Canadian Muslim communities and portrays them as a threat rather than as a partner in the fight against violent extremism,” says Ihsaan Gardee, NCCM’s Executive Director.
“The issue of violent extremism is real and one which all Canadians take seriously and yet it is hard to understand how a poorly drafted and poorly researched report which is replete with contradictions and mischaracterizations will do anything more than provide talking points on the election circuit.
“We note with appreciation that three Senators dissented on this report, including the committee’s deputy chair, which indicates that our concerns are shared by those who were directly working on this report and privy to the process leading to its compilation.
“Not only does it appear that the report was rushed through in time for summer electioneering, but a significant portion of it relied on testimony that was based on conjecture, implicating Canadian Muslims and their representative institutions with extremist ideologies,” says Gardee.
“This report encourages a dangerous narrative that will do little to restore the trust and goodwill with communities on the front-line of this issue who have borne the brunt of a campaign of inflammatory rhetoric targeting them and their faith.
“It also must be said that the disproportionate focus on the Canadian Muslim community also means that significant threats of radicalization, including those emerging from right-wing extremists, were not even considered. This despite several recent reports and expert testimony stating that this threat is a major pre-occupation of Canadian security agencies,” says Gardee.
“Far from being a necessary conversation about violent extremism, this report and its recommendations are redundant, contradictory and misleading on many fronts. In addition, its tone reads like a colonial document dictating a primarily one-way relationship with minority communities and suggesting that the state has the final say on determining who can and cannot participate in our communities and in our democracy.”
Other concerns about the report include:
* The first recommendation calls for the government to make it a criminal offence to be a member of a terrorist group. The criminal code already contains provisions that make it a criminal offense to support or commit terrorist acts.
* A recommendation about providing adequate supports for prison inmates. The government cut funding to part-time prison chaplains and privatized chaplaincy altogether. The only full-time Muslim federal chaplain resigned in protest because of the way he was limited in being able to fully support Muslim inmates. This imam, along with others, had developed a counter-radicalization program but his input was not sought by the committee.
* A recommendation that imams require special vetting as opposed to any other faith leaders. If radicalization to violence is the concern, the criminal code currently includes provisions to deal with anyone suspected of promoting terrorist ideology. This recommendation bears the hallmarks of racial and religious discrimination and is contrary to the Charter and human rights codes. It is not the role of the state in a democracy to regulate religion.
* A recommendation that law enforcement agencies have to “vet” community members before outreach can proceed. This is problematic given the government’s track record of silencing and intimidating those who critique its policies. This recommendation could severely limit law enforcement efforts to build critical channels of communication and relationships with community members, limiting the diversity of voices present at the table, and hampering efforts to find real solutions to our shared security concerns. It also neglects to take into consideration the fact that it is often community members and leaders who step forward to highlight such security concerns. Creating a list of the kind proposed by the committee may limit the ability of law enforcement agencies to quickly respond to community concerns.
* A recommendation of creating a publicly accessible “No-Visit List” of international speakers who pose a threat to the security of Canada. It’s unclear what sort of criteria would be used to determine who is on the list and whether or not there would be a robust review, oversight and appeal process to challenge a listing. Without clear and principled criteria with review, oversight and appeal mechanisms this recommendation is susceptible to politicking. The recommendation also raises concerns about limiting freedom of expression – even offensive and distasteful expression that is not criminal. Promoting terrorist ideology is already a criminal offense.
* Contradictory messaging: On one hand, the report acknowledges that “police and intelligence officials [have] noted that stigmatization is counterproductive to their investigative efforts” and yet later in the document there is a critique of efforts by law enforcement agencies to avoid using religious references which experts contend legitimize violent extremist claims and could alienate those working on the front lines by conflating the actions of a few with entire communities.
* A recommendation whose stated aim claims to ensure the protection of Canadians who are participating in public discourse from vexatious litigation but which, in fact, amounts to nothing more than a direct attack on the ability of individuals and institutions – and by extension, entire communities – to defend themselves from false allegations and attempts to smear and target them for political or other purposes.
“Canadian Muslim communities will continue to fulfill their civic and religious duty of upholding and promoting our country’s security and well-being. It is critical that government and law enforcement agencies work cooperatively and in partnership with communities to address the issue of violent extremism holistically and effectively. Unfortunately, the committee’s report has completely missed the mark in that regard.”
The NCCM is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit grassroots advocacy organization. It is a leading voice for Muslim civic engagement and the promotion of human rights.