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Calgary program that combats radicalization evolves to help others ‘crying out for help’

June 20, 2018: 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.

The soft-spoken young man wasn’t being recruited by neo-Nazis or the Islamic State, but he was in a downward spiral.

Andy, who asked not to have his real name published, says he hit rock bottom a few years ago when he was 19. He later got help from Calgary’s ReDirect program, which links at-risk young people with police officers and social workers to steer them from dangerous ideologies.

The voluntary program started in 2015 and was initially aimed at helping individuals in danger of being recruited by terrorist organizations or criminal gangs.

READ MORE: Calgary police aim to prevent division, radicalization with first-ever youth program

In Andy’s case, he posted something inappropriate on Facebook.

“It was at my workplace… and obviously it wasn’t good. At that time I was drunk and I didn’t know what I was writing or boasting about. Then eventually they fired me,” he says.

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“Then I kept calling my workplace. I was really mad over the fact I lost my job so I kept doing that and eventually they reported me to the police.”

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Andy, who had immigrated with his family from Yemen, wouldn’t reveal what he posted online.

ReDirect’s co-ordinator, Sgt. Gareth Joels with the Calgary Police Service, wouldn’t disclose specifics about the case either.

READ MORE: What the RCMP is doing behind the scenes to prevent violent extremism

Joels and social worker Sheila Brantnall do initial assessments on anyone recommended for the program. About 25 per cent are deemed a good fit.

“We do background checks on possible referrals,” Joels says.

“In their backgrounds, the ideologies can be religious, political, right wing, left wing.”

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ReDirect has evolved since it was set up to deal with people leaving for overseas to fight for ISIS. Getting help now are those with violent ideologies, socially awkward youth or new Canadians struggling to fit in.

At least one individual, Joels says, came to the group after celebrating a horrific event online.

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“I think that was more like crying out for help,” he says.

Watch below (Aug. 13, 2016): Aaron Driver was killed during a confrontation with RCMP officers last week in relation to a terror threat. The situation hits close to home for Christianne Boudreau because her son Damion Clairmont was killed fighting for the Islamic State in 2014.

Calgary mother criticizes how security officials handled terror threat in Ontario
Calgary mother criticizes how security officials handled terror threat in Ontario

Chris Boudreau says she thinks her son’s fate would have been different if the program had been available years earlier.

Damian Clairmont converted to Islam as a teen in Calgary. He was 22 when he died while fighting with Islamic extremists in Syria in 2014.

Boudreau consulted on the ReDirect program when it began.

“If I would have gotten him in early enough, I think there would have been the tools in place to possibly change that whole path and course.”

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Boudreau believes in the program so much she put in a younger son several months ago. His father had died and the boy was struggling without a male role model.

She believes the program should be made mandatory, since it’s hard for people to admit that they have a problem.

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“If you have that degree of a problem and frustration level, you can walk away so easily when things don’t go your way — you’re not necessarily going to get all the help that you need.”

READ MORE: When he was 20, he fled Canada to join ISIS. Now he’s believed dead and his family says it didn’t see the signs

The program paired Andy up with Const. Abdi Hassan and social worker Komal Kardar. At first, they just listened to the young man.

“We’re trying to figure out what’s driving some of those grievances,” Kardar explains. “It’s usually never just one thing.”

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Hassan says Andy is doing well now, but it wasn’t an easy transition. It took two years before he had a breakthrough.

“There were a lot of situations that were very dim, very hard to grasp, and he knows what we’re talking about, and he overcame that and he’s working very well,” Hassan says.

READ MORE: Toronto ISIS member killed in Syria, says pro-ISIS group

Andy, now 23, is still in the program. He says he has learned how to control his anger, drinking and behaviour in job interviews.

“After that I got myself a first job. I kept working. I kept taking care of myself. And then I got my second job. Eventually after, I got everything under control.

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“I haven’t felt more happier.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2019.

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