Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s five-year, $35-million effort to detect, quarantine and eradicate the incubation of terrorism in Canada is slowly and tentatively rolling out in consultations, research initiatives and funded projects, and so far, so good.
It’s fairly uncharted territory. There is no example to follow in the United States. The Obama administration had funded a paltry $10 million for local efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism, but the Trump presidency killed it off. Preferring instead to rely solely on law-enforcement agencies, the Department of Homeland Security ditched Obama’s project and eliminated support for private groups focusing on right-wing domestic extremists.
A cautionary tale from Britain, however, should cause Goodale to be wary of the scattered, multi-agency, public-private and cross-jurisdictional approach his Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence has been tasked to take.
The United Kingdom’s “Prevent” policy, begun in 2003 as part of prime minister Tony Blair’s post-911 counterterrorism initiative, aims to root out the kinds of radicalization that lead to criminal violence and terror attacks. Under the government of Conservative prime minister David Cameron, “Prevent” was expanded to establish reporting of radical extremism as a legal duty throughout the public sector.
It seemed sensible, but soon enough, British doctors and nurses were being instructed to report utterances evocative of radical extremism among patients on dementia wards. Teachers and social workers protested that they were being conscripted into service as spies. Muslim groups complained that the innocently devout were being unfairly singled out for surveillance and referrals via the Prevent bureaucracy for remedial intervention.