WATCH: Stephen Harper has announced $150 million in funding for RCMP and Border Services, to help them deal with homegrown terrorism. But critics say he’s missing the point. Vassy Kapelos reports.
Defence Minister Jason Kenney says it’s “unrealistic” for the Canadian government to get involved in counter-radicalization efforts that could prevent the rising number of young people trying to join extremist groups.
Kenney, in an interview for The West Block with Tom Clark, claimed the government and its agencies “have no credibility with the people who believe they are locked in a war with the so-called infidels.
“That kind of deprogramming or counter-radicalization work really has to come from within communities and it most effectively happens from those who are doing so with their own resources.”
The minister went on to suggest government money could actually hurt such counter-radicalization efforts.
“The minute they start receiving a cheque from the government, they don’t have credibility with the kind of young people who are susceptible to radicalization,” he said.
READ MORE: Does Quebec have a young extremist problem?
And that number has gone up significantly, according to the RCMP. But, the Mounties won’t tell you just how high the number of so-called high-risk travellers — individuals suspected of planning to travel abroad to take part in terror-related activities — actually is.
Back in October, in the wake of deadly attacks in Quebec and on Parliament Hill, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said there were at least 90 individuals authorities were monitoring as high-risk travellers.
But when asked to provide an update on the number of cases, the RCMP said the number “does not provide a comprehensive picture of the threat.”
“What is important to understand is that the RCMP is always re-evaluating these files to ensure that they are prioritized according to risk,” RCMP Sergeant Harold Pfleiderer told Global News in an email Friday.
He went on to explain, in a second email, the number of investigations “fluctuates daily” and not every person designated as a high-risk traveller poses “a threat of terrorism-related violence.”
“I can tell you that the number of cases linked to high-risk travellers has increased significantly and there are no indications that they will decrease.”
Public Safety Canada also didn’t provide a number, but said the government “is aware that a number of Canadian citizens have left the country to take part in terrorist activities.
“Some extremist travellers remain abroad. Others have returned to Canada, while others are presumed dead,” spokesperson Josée Sirois said in an email to Global News, quoting the department’s 2014 Public Report on The Terrorist Threat To Canada.
That document, published in August 2014, indicated ” more than 130 individuals with Canadian connections who were abroad and who were suspected of terrorism-related activities.”
Those activities weren’t necessarily acts of violence or combat, but also planning and fundraising.
The most concrete number of so-called extremist travellers came from the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) at a parliamentary hearing last month.
Michel Columbe said there were now 145 Canadians who had travelled abroad to join armed groups — one-third of them in Iraq and Syria.
“That overall number is slowly increasing, with the sharpest increase in Iraq and Syria. In fact, over the last three or four months, we have probably seen an increase of 50 per cent in the number of people who have left for Iraq and Syria,” he told the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence on April 20.
READ MORE: Is Canada doing enough to fight ISIS?
At that same hearing, the RCMP Deputy Commissioner Mike Cabana acknowledged the value in taking preventative measures to stop individuals “from becoming radicalized to violence in the first place.
“Through the RCMP’s Terrorism Prevention Program, we’re helping to provide law enforcement and communities across Canada with the skills and tools they need to identify and intervene with individuals at risk before they mobilize to violence.”
The federal government recently highlighted spending in the budget for counter-terrorism efforts but made no mention of counter-radicalization strategies.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Thursday, in Montreal, the government will provide more than $150 million over five years for the RCMP and the Canadian Border Service Agency to combat homegrown terrorism.
Kenney confirmed that money was already included in the “fiscal framework” of the budget.
With files from Jennifer Madigan