WATCH: As Mike Armstrong explains it’s not the first time young people have tried to leave Canada to join extremist groups, but this is by far the largest group that’s been stopped.
Ten young people accused of trying to leave Canada to join extremist groups have had their passports seized after authorities arrested them before they could depart Montreal.
RCMP didn’t reveal the ages or genders of any of the individuals arrested last week, none of whom are facing charges at this time, nor what information led to the arrests. But, the arrests come only months after police revealed they suspected seven other young people, who attended Montreal-area colleges, had travelled abroad to join up with jihadists and add to a growing list of suspected extremist travellers coming out of Quebec.
While he doesn’t think Quebec is the only province to see young people leave to join extremist groups, the number in Quebec should be considered alarming, Amarnath Amarasingam told Global News on Wednesday.
“At least 9-10 [people] have left from Quebec. With these arrests, those are insane numbers from Quebec,” said Amarasingam, a postdoctoral fellow based at the University of Waterloo who is researching Canadian foreign fighters and tracks their social media interactions.
He said it’s not necessarily surprising because groups such as ISIS play to the identity struggles some young Muslims in Quebec are facing.
“A lot of the research with Muslim youth in Quebec shows they have increasingly felt alienated and unwelcome,” he said. “The narrative in Quebec, urging youth to choose between their Muslim identity and their Canadian/Quebec identity, at precisely the time that these youth are struggling with their identities, is not good.”
Quebec, like France, has a sizeable population of Muslim immigrants from French-speaking countries in the North African region known as the Maghreb, an area that has seen some of the largest numbers of foreign fighters joining jihadi groups, said University of Waterloo professor Dr. Lorne Dawson — who is also the co-director of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society.
“So [in Quebec] you have the connection back to the Maghreb. You have the connection to France and to the Maghreb population in France,” he explained. And of all the Western nations that have seen a stream of citizens heading to ISIS-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria, France has the most with more than 1,000 people leaving to take up arms with the militant group.
ISIS is particularly aggressive in recruiting foreign fighters, with as many as 20,000 in its ranks, and it achieves this in multiple languages — including French.
“ISIS, itself, is making a concerted effort to reach out to specific sub-communities in their language,” he said. And, as Amarasingam pointed out, with “higher tensions” between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities in Quebec over issues of secularization and the debate surrounding Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
ISIS, compared to other jihadist groups, especially likes to capitalize on the notion of that in order to be a good Muslim, how can you support and pay taxes to a government that is perceived to be against Islam.
“If you’re in Quebec, whereas a young person you’re seeing these tensions play out in the news and the government seems to be engaged in action that’s maybe opposed to the interests of the Muslim community… then this message from ISIS will resonate,” Dawson said.
He added the age at which people are becoming radicalized is also getting younger — with young teens trying to leave home to travel to the so-called Islamic State — and the source of their radicalization isn’t just limited to the online propaganda ISIS is so good at sharing.
Some of the group of seven individuals, who are believed to have left Canada for the Middle East in January, were schoolmates or knew each other prior to leaving the country. That appears be the case in this latest situation, and some of this latest group reportedly had ties to those who left this past winter.
If it’s young people who are most at risk of being susceptible to radical ideology, the way we can best reach out to them may be education, suggested André Gagné — an assistant professor of religion and theological studies at Concordia University.
Gagné said proper education about religion in schools could go a long way to having young individuals understand how “to be able to have something concrete to be able to resist this kind of radicalization.
“Not from a faith perspective, but critically to understand various faiths, to understand the complexities of world views,” he said. “You need to understand the complexities of the political world. ”
He suggested there needs easy access to be people who can “provide a counter-narrative,” to the ideology and claims put forth by groups like ISIS.
“If radicalization is an enemy, we need to know that. We need to know our enemy to be able to face it proficiently.”
With files from Mike Armstrong
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