02/18/2015 12:31 EST | Updated 04/20/2015 05:59 EDT

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Terrorism?


Sydney. Paris. Copenhagen. St-Jean-sur-Richelieu. Ottawa. As instances of terror across the western world have seemingly skyrocketed in recent months it's hard not to wonder -- what's going on?

Terrorist are not born, they are sought out and recruited over time. The process of radicalization is intentional and thought out. Governments need to address the fundamentals of homegrown terrorism including how and why young men (not exclusively but overwhelmingly young men) engage in these horrendous actions.

To combat terrorism on Canadian soil the federal government recently introduced new a series of new anti-terror measures through legislation. Undertaking an assessment of our current security regulations and laws and improving upon them is not a bad thing. Many Canadians support these proposed changes -- even if only in general terms, and many also support allocating greater resources towards combating domestic terrorism.

With these changes, there have quite naturally been calls for increased oversight given the sweeping new powers the legislation would provide to the RCMP and CSIS. And while this is a discussion worth having, little discussion has been had in Parliament, in the media and elsewhere on actually halting radicalization and prevent it from occurring. Laws stopping terrorists from committing horrendous acts will only take us so far. We need to address the core of the issue -- radicalization -- why does it happen? And how can we prevent it or reverse its course?

Political scientists and others have studied individuals who join terrorist organizations in the Middle East and have found that often they are not the poor, huddled masses many assume but rather are middle class, educated and frustrated by their lack of opportunity.

When looking at Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, Martin Rouleau or John Maguire, one can't help but see similarities. All three men came from middle class backgrounds and Mr. Maguire was a former University of Ottawa student. While it's impossible to know for certain, it can be assumed that all three men were also frustrated either with their lack of opportunity, perceived social injustice or perhaps for other reasons.

This is not to suggest that that the profiles of domestic terrorists are the same as those in the Middle East -- the social, economic, religious, cultural and political environments differ significantly. Nor is it to suggest that governments should be able to create a terrorism "check list" which will easily allow them to identify all individuals likely to commit terrorist actions. Domestic terrorism is much more complicated than that.

However, this type of research does generate thought and greater assessment. By focusing on the issue of radicalization and developing a better understanding of it, including how and why it happens here in Canada, the government will be in a much better position to prevent the spread of domestic terrorism.

Although initially reluctant to investigate the root causes of terrorism, the government has commissioned studies into facets that lead to terrorism. In conjunction with such studies, action is needed to address radicalization in Canada.

The RCMP has announced that it is launching its own de-radicalization program, which will attempt to prevent at-risk individuals from becoming radicalized and supportive of violent and extremist ideology. While this is a positive step forward, the program has no intention of dealing with those individuals who return to Canada from fighting abroad with extremist groups and de-radicalizing them.

Convicting and incarcerating those who return to Canada from fighting with extremist groups overseas alone is not enough. Radicalization spreads, particularly in prison, where many individuals feel wronged by the system and society more generally. Once those prisoners return to civilian life they take with them their twisted and radicalized beliefs and spread them in the communities where they live.

Many of Canada's allies have their own de-radicalization programs in place for those who return home after joining terrorist organizations abroad. Often de-radicalization programs aim to work with religious leaders and community organizers to re-educate radicals on religious teachings. Many programs also aim to provide returning fighters with a support system and economic opportunity so that they feel more fully integrated and accepted by society.

Given that de-radicalization is still a relatively new approach there is no hard or fast rules on how to best implement these programs. As a result, no two de-radicalization programs look alike, the U.K.'s program differs significantly from Denmark's and Germany's and so forth. It stands to reason then why the RCMP's program would not also take steps to de-radicalize those that have returned to Canada, tailoring the program to suit Canadian realities.

It would be a mistake to assume that the government's new anti-terror legislation alone is a sufficient response to the rise in domestic terrorism. Instead the government's new proposed legislation should be part of a larger effort that aims to not only prevent terrorism but also address radicalization and, where possible, reverse its course.


Photo galleryIn Photos: Ottawa Shooting See Gallery