June 20, 2018 2:58 pm
Updated: June 20, 2018 5:11 pm

Intelligence watchdog calls for more CSIS resources to tackle mental health links to terrorism

The parents of a Canadian teen convicted of seven counts of terrorism in the U.S. say his long history with mental illness and drug addiction played a crucial role in his radicalization. They also say this made him vulnerable to law enforcement.

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Canada’s intelligence service should put more resources into the growing number of cases linked to mental health, a watchdog agency said in a report tabled in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

The report said that while mental health was surfacing more frequently in Canadian Security Intelligence Service investigations, the experts the agency relied upon were overburdened.

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The Security Intelligence Review Committee report urged the intelligence service to expand the “resources available to keep up with the demand for services that assist CSIS to manage mental health issues that arise in investigations.”

It also recommended that CSIS develop a reference tool to help officers identify mental health issues during investigations.

“Yes, CSIS will be looking to allocate more resources to this important capacity, while also continuing to balance the vacancies within the workforce,” said Tahera Mufti, the CSIS spokesperson.Mental health experts are essential to the success of our operations and the well-being of our employees.”

READ MORE: He plotted to bomb Times Square for ISIS. Records show he’s mentally ill. Is he a terrorist?

Canadian terrorism cases are increasingly turning up links to mental illness.

A Global News investigation uncovered records in four countries showing that Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, a 20-year-old Canadian arrested by the FBI for plotting attacks in New York City for the so-called Islamic State, had struggled with mental illness.

Last month, Ayanle Hassan Ali, who said “Allah” told him to attack soldiers at Toronto’s military recruiting centre in 2016, was acquitted of terrorism and found not criminally responsible for other charges due to mental illness.

In British Columbia, a judge dismissed a terrorism peace bond in January against a man accused of wanting to join ISIS. Khalid Ahmad Ibrahim had been apprehended twice under the Mental Health Act prior to his arrest.

The SIRC review examined a sample of CSIS case files linked to mental health between January 2014 and June 2017 and found the agency’s approach “was appropriate and conformed to ministerial direction.”

But the report said CSIS did not have enough mental health experts to assist with investigations, which had led to a “backlog, delays, and a constant triaging of priorities.”

In addition, the report said not all cases were being referred to mental health experts because CSIS officers knew they were swamped and would not be able to respond in a timely fashion.

CSIS said it was “working to address vacancies” and exploring “other strategies” while also “taking into account competing requirements in other priority areas.”

READ MORE: Via Rail terror plotter to appeal life sentence after undergoing mental health treatment

In its annual report to Parliament, the review committee also said it had looked at how CSIS investigated the far-right.

CSIS had ended its investigation of right-wing extremism in March 2016 following a review that found most activity was lawful dissent and police were addressing the threat to public order, the report said.

However, CSIS reopened its investigation after the January 2017 attack at a Quebec mosque that left six worshippers dead, and was cooperating more often with the RCMP on the far-right threat, it said.

“According to CSIS, [right-wing] violence is usually infrequent, unplanned, and opportunistic, and is carried out by individuals rather than groups,” the report said.

Stewart.Bell@globalnews.ca

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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