The Liberal government pledged $35 million in the 2016 federal budget to fight radicalization of young people in Canada in the ongoing battle with terrorism and the so-called Islamic State. But is it enough?
It’s a step in the right direction according to a University of Calgary terrorism researcher but Canada is “way behind the ball.”
“We are way, way behind the ball on this. All of our peer allies have been doing this for a very long time,” said Michael Zekulin, an adjunct assistant professor in the university’s political science department.
Canada experienced two small-scale attacks in October 2014 — the killing of Canadian Forces warrant officer Patrice Vincent in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., and the Parliament Hill shooting that claimed the life of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo.
The assailants in both attack were motivated by extremist ideologies and were radicalized in Canada.
Since that time, Canadian authorities have arrested several individuals who have attempted to leave the country to join groups such as the so-called Islamic State, the terror group that claimed responsibility for deadly Tuesday’s attacks in Brussels.
The federal government, in its 2016 budget announced Tuesday, allocated $35 million over five years to create the Office of the Community Outreach and Counter-radicalization coordinator.
Zekulin said counter-radicalization efforts won’t stop young Canadians from joining terrorist groups, but it could minimize the number of individuals going down the radicalized road.
He said setting up the Office is “the right way forward,” but its announcement is rather “generic” and the government doesn’t really lay out any clear plans as to how it will actually work with community and law enforcement stakeholders to counter radicalism.
“The devil’s in the details,” Zekulin said.
Conservative Public Safety critic Erin O’Toole wants to know those details, too. He also wants to know why the government isn’t promising more money for frontline security agencies so they can disrupt risks to public safety.
“This is one area that was basically omitted,” he said. “There was virtually nothing in the budget, in a budget that was fairly big and fairly liberal… in terms of spending.”
He said it’s sadly ironic the federal finance minister began his budget speech with recognition of Tuesday’s terror attacks in Brussels but came up short when it came to money spent on tackling the threat.
“It kind of shows they’re out of step with a serious risk to Canadians,” he said, noting that of the roughly 180 Canadians who have travelled abroad to join extremist groups such as the so-called Islamic State and al Qaeda, approximately 60 have returned to Canada at some point.
As far as the counter-radicalization spending is concerned, O’Toole doesn’t expect it will go as far as it needs to. Although he supports the idea of the Office, he said the $3 million in spending this year will go toward hiring the actual coordinator and “get the ball rolling,” while the rest of the promised $35 million will likely be spent on outreach and education.
“All of that is important, but there is nothing in the rest of the spending for terror-related risks.”
WATCH: More coverage of the attacks in Brussels
Public Safety Canada didn’t provide Global News with many details on what the Office will do. But the minister’s press secretary, Scott Bardsley, said details and a timeline of its establishment with be forthcoming.
But Bardsley pointed out the money the federal government plans to put forward for the Office is only one aspect of how the government plans to fight terrorism.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in February made good on a campaign promise to end Canada’s bombing mission against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria, a combat role the Canadian government committed to in October 2014. The Liberals turned the focus of the mission to supporting greater humanitarian assistance and providing more ground combat training to local forces.
The Liberals refute criticism they’re not spending enough money to counter-terrorism.
“Our government hasn’t cut funding for counter-terrorism, we’ve increased it,” Bardsley said in an email.
The Liberals, he said, are spending more than $500 million over the next two years on funding for various departments working to ensure Canadians’ security — including significant spending on physical infrastructure. The budget also lays out $306 million in planned spending to contribute to government’s re-focused efforts to fight the so-called Islamic State and a further $145 million to “counter-terrorism, stabilization and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear security programming.”
The former Conservative government spent big on efforts to counter the threat of terrorism, driven by domestic terror attacks in Ottawa and Quebec.
The Conservative government’s 2015 federal budget doled out money for intelligence enhancing security at government, armed forces and public facilities. They also proposed $292.6 million, over five years, to counter-terrorism spending, as well as $360 million specifically for the air combat and training mission against ISIS.
The $3 million the Liberals plan to spend this year on the counter-radicalization coordinator’s office, is roughly the same amount as what the former Conservative Public Safety Minister, Steven Blaney, spent on his department’s countering violent extremism strategy in 2014-15.