Quebec’s new UNESCO chair on the prevention of radicalization and violent extremism is the first of its kind in the world, say members of three universities who launched the project Friday in Sherbrooke, Que.
The research centre will be directed by a team of professors from Concordia University, Université de Sherbrooke and Université du Québec a Montréal.
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Co-director David Morin said the chair’s mission is to create a “pole of excellence” that will bring together experts in both research and field work.
“(The goal) is to be able to develop programs, to evaluate them and to support the political decision-makers and the stakeholders in the field on the subject of prevention of radicalization,” said Morin, a professor at the Université de Sherbrooke.
He said the chair’s mission as well as its governance model make it a world first.
“What is unique in the world is a UNESCO chair that’s tripartite — that brings together three universities that signed the agreement with UNESCO — but beyond that, it’s the gathering of national and international partners that are coming together to share their expertise,” Morin said.
The project was conceived during the UNESCO conference on radicalization that Quebec hosted in 2016 and will become one of the international body’s 700 institutions in 116 countries that encourage inter-university cooperation around the world.
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The centre has an international focus and will collaborate with a network of over 40 partners across North America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
Quebec has pledged $100,000 a year for the next four years to support the initiative.
The current staff includes a chairholder from each school as well as a scientific director based at Université de Sherbrooke.
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Co-chair Vivek Venkatesh said the centre’s activities will include providing training to people who work in marginalized communities and creating public engagement tools to counter hate speech and violent propaganda.
As an example, he cited an ongoing project in Montreal’s East End that teaches marginalized youth to use music and literature to describe their experiences with hateful speech or actions.
The chair will bring together multiple disciplines including political science, international development, social services, and psychology.
It’s tripartite structure means each school can contribute their own resources and sources of funding, Venkatesh said.
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“This is a coming together of institutional allies but also people from disciplines from three different institutions,” the Concordia professor said.
“Our training and our respective cultures are coming together in a very unique way.”
The secretary general of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO praised the chair and its governance model as “a first in Canada and the world.”
“We look forward to working with the chair to counter the rise of radicalization and violent extremism in Canada and the world,” Sebastien Goupil said in a statement.