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Paris tragedies raise familiar question of how to deal with homegrown extremism

WATCH: The recent attacks in Paris renews the question of how to prevent radicalization. Christina Stevens reports.

The tragedies that unfolded in Paris this week point to the growing issue of homegrown radicalization, a problem familiar to many Canadians.

Watching the events in France closely is Christianne Boudreau. Her older son, Damien Clairmont, was a typical boy, athletic and caring. Then things started to change, he became radicalized and died fighting with extremists in Syria at age 22.

“It does bring back a lot of memories,” said Boudreau. “It makes me think about what happened, how it could be different.”

She believes the best way to prevent the kind of violence that erupted in France is early intervention.

“We have to take note of any drastic changes in our youth and if there is something going on, not to be afraid of stigma, or judgement, what other people think and reach out for that help. We can’t expect to do it on our own,” she said.

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Boudreau wants people to know it has to be a community effort, with outreach and programs to prevent youth from feeling disenfranchised.

Those feelings of isolation are similar to youth who are drawn into street gangs. However, one expert says the key difference is that those who become radicalized have a strong desire to do something virtuous and great.

“That’s why they are drawn to the Jihadi ideology and the notion that they are coming to the defence of Muslim people around the world. They see themselves, of course, not as horrible people harming others. They see them as sensitive, strong people and doing something to reach out and help victims,” said Lorne Dawson, a University of Waterloo Professor with the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security & Society.

Canada has experienced extremists committing violent acts at home, most recently in October with the murders of a soldier in Ottawa and one near Montreal.

A former CSIS officer said police agencies are tracking the threats, and claimed that for every successful attack, dozens have been thwarted, but there is only so much they can do.

“You prioritize. Sometimes it is like rolling dice. Sometimes you hit your mark and sometimes things will slip through the cracks. You can’t cover everyone. That’s why communities are important to be tapped into and to have good relationships with,” said Jean-Luc Marchessault, who now works as a security consultant.

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Boudreau couldn’t agree more, adding she is not giving up, but will keep pushing for more intervention in Canada and internationally.

“It is as if some hope get lost every time this happens and it makes it more difficult because it creates more segregation. It hurts me every time. It breaks my heart that all these lives are being lost, for what?” she said.

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