Toronto lifts curtain on extremism prevention plan, quietly operating for more than 2 years

Part of the arsenal in combatting extremism and increasing resilience:

Police in Toronto are lifting the curtain on an extremism prevention program that has been quietly operating in the city for more than two years — but experts in the field say getting young people at risk of radicalization to use it will come down to a question of trust.

The project, which first sprouted in 2013, has been purposely kept from public view until this week.

“At this point in time we feel that we have a good service in place and we’re ready for people to participate in it,” Deputy Chief James Ramer told CBC News. Together with the City of Toronto, Ramer said, the force hoped to fine-tune the program behind the scenes through direct involvement from community groups, rather than simply present a made-by-police project.

Here’s how it works.

A person deemed at risk for extremism is referred by a police officer or a participating agency to one of four hubs, each consisting of 15 to 20 bodies, including medical professionals, faith groups, the school board and community housing.

Referrals require the consent of the person at risk and are based on a list of some 103 risk factors. Participation, said police, is entirely voluntary.

Cases are assessed at the hub, and depending on the most pressing concerns, two participating organizations are chosen to lead an intervention, which can range from spiritual counselling to mental health assistance.

Referrals anonymous

“All of this is done in complete anonymity,” said Ramer, adding that the hub process meets the privacy commissioner’s “gold standard” in terms of protection of personal information. Only cases that involve a criminal element or pose risks to public safety are formally investigated.

As for what kinds of extremism the program addresses, Sgt. Kelly Gallant said it runs the gamut from Islamist-inspired, to white supremacist to environmental extremism, to name a few. “We talk about all different kinds of extremism.… Not just what we mostly see on TV.”

It’s not the first time a deradicalization program has been floated in Toronto, but it is the city’s first police-led initiative.

Toronto police

Deputy Police Chief James Ramer, Sgt. Kelly Gallant and Staff Sgt. Donovan Locke say the extremism prevention program has been quietly operating in the city for more than two years. (CBC)

Six months ago, the Canadian Council of Imams announced plans to open two to three deradicalization clinics in Toronto that would take a “holistic” approach, as early as this fall. Those clinics, Toronto imam Hamid Slimi told CBC Toronto, have not yet taken off owing to a lack of community support.

Toronto’s program is housed under the police’s existing community safety program, which also tackles gangs and drugs. Montreal also has an anti-radicalization centre, but not one led by police.

Trust ‘in shambles’ in some communities

But whether young people will consent to being involved in the program will ultimately depend on whether they feel safe engaging with police, says University of Waterloo religious studies post-doctoral fellow Amarnath Amarasingam.

“It depends much on how the police are able to gain the trust of communities. In some communities, this trust is in shambles, but in others, there is a history of working together. So, it really depends if the cops can shed some of this baggage,” Amarasingam said.

Source: Toronto lifts curtain on extremism prevention plan, quietly operating for more than 2 years – Toronto – CBC News

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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