$4M pro­gram de­signed to pro­tect Al­berta youth from ex­trem­ists

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - JONNY WAKE­FIELD jwake­field@post­media.com

Keep­ing young peo­ple from falling into the thrall of vi­o­lent ex­trem­ist groups on­line is one of the goals of a new $4-mil­lion pro­gram to com­bat rad­i­cal­iza­tion in Al­berta. In­fra­struc­ture and Com­mu­ni­ties Min­is­ter Amar­jeet Sohi an­nounced the new fed­eral fund­ing Fri­day at Ed­mon­ton City Hall. The pro­gram was de­vel­oped prior to the Sept. 30 truck at­tack and not in di­rect re­sponse, po­lice spokes­woman Cheryl Shep­pard said, al­though speak­ers at the event linked the two. “We be­lieve that the first step of preven­tion is aware­ness,” said John McCoy, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Preven­tion of Vi­o­lence (OPV). “We need to make the right peo­ple aware of this prob­lem, and by that I mean par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors — those who can spot early risk — and those who are in law en­force­ment roles or other roles where they might en­counter this par­tic­u­lar is­sue.” Around $2.2 mil­lion over five years will go to the Ed­mon­ton Po­lice Ser­vice to “dis­cour­age in­di­vid­u­als from rad­i­cal­iz­ing to vi­o­lence by ad­dress­ing the po­ten­tial sources of vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism avail­able on­line and off­line,” a news re­lease from Pub­lic Safety Canada said. The OPV will re­ceive an­other $1.2 mil­lion of the grant for a three­year study, Coun­ter­ing Vi­o­lent Ex­trem­ism in Al­berta, which will map po­ten­tial sources of vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism in the prov­ince and es­tab­lish part­ner­ships with com­mu­nity groups. McCoy said rad­i­cal­iza­tion is a ma­jor is­sue, es­pe­cially in Al­berta, which has a long his­tory of far­right ex­trem­ist groups. “I think we can safely say based on what we have (that) Al­berta is dis­pro­por­tion­ately im­pacted by these is­sues in com­par­i­son to most other prov­inces in Canada,” he said. “It’s an open ques­tion why that ex­ists.” Ahmed Ab­dulka­dir, a So­mali-Cana­dian com­mu­nity leader and a co­founder of the or­ga­ni­za­tion, said the study would not tar­get any par­tic­u­lar com­mu­nity or group. “Let’s be frank — hate-mo­tived vi­o­lence comes from all dif­fer­ent groups or in­di­vid­u­als,” he said. Ed­mon­ton po­lice Chief Rod Knecht said the new fund­ing would give po­lice and com­mu­nity groups a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of why young peo­ple are drawn to vi­o­lent ide­olo­gies. Par­ents, teach­ers or school re­source of­fi­cers could then in­ter­vene with young peo­ple who are show­ing warn­ing signs be­fore they be­come vi­o­lent. “We all re­mem­ber back when we were 13, 14, 15, 16, we’re more vul­ner­a­ble at that time. We’re try­ing to find our way through life, and peo­ple ex­ploit that,” Knecht said He added, “so­cial me­dia is a huge com­po­nent of this.” “These are peo­ple that gen­er­ally fly un­der the radar and are not en­gaged in main­stream so­ci­ety. I think this project will al­low us to iden­tify them and un­der­stand them and work with them.” The fund­ing an­nounce­ment comes months af­ter a Sept. 30 at­tack in which a sus­pect rammed an Ed­mon­ton po­lice of­fi­cer with a car and at­tacked him with a knife be­fore mow­ing down Jasper Av­enue pedes­tri­ans with a U-Haul truck. The ac­cused, Ab­du­lahi Hasan Sharif, 30, a So­mali refugee, was in­ves­ti­gated by the RCMP af­ter a com­plaint that he was “es­pous­ing ex­trem­ist ide­olo­gies” in 2015. They did not have enough ev­i­dence to war­rant ad­di­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tion, RCMP of­fi­cials said at the time. Knecht said he be­lieves that ev­ery­thing that could be done to pre­vent the vi­o­lence was done. “We are a democ­racy. We’re not a po­lice state ... you mon­i­tor as best you can, you do as much as you can, and I think that is what this (project) will help us do.”

We need to make the right peo­ple aware of this prob­lem, and by that I mean par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors — those who can spot early risk.


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