Calgary police will launch a counter-radicalization strategy this summer that targets at-risk youth, police Chief Paul Cook confirmed Tuesday.
Calgary became a focal point last year in the national discussion around homegrown extremism after it was revealed that five young men had left the city in 2012 to join various terror groups. Last June, former police chief Rick Hanson said police believe as many as 30 young Calgarians had left the country to fight with extremist groups in Iraq and Syria.
“Back in 2014 there was a lot of community discussion around radicalization in Canada and in Calgary,” Cook said.
“We firmly believe that a lot of our programs that we have currently in existence within our crime prevention and reduction continuum provide that resilience in early intervention and prevention.”
Police are developing the ReDirect Strategy in an attempt to prevent at-risk Calgarians from ages 12-24 from being radicalized, Cook explained.
Imam Syed Soharwardy, who has long been an outspoken advocate for countering radicalization in the city, called the ReDirect strategy a step in the right direction for police. He said the force needs to focus on prevention, instead of reacting.
“When something bad happens, police have to react, no doubt about it,” he said. “But for radicalization, if we adopt the same policy, how long are we going to continue reacting?”
He stressed the importance of working with the community and targeting those who are “preaching hate and intolerance.”
“It’s not just having meetings with religious leaders, imams, community leaders,” Soharwardy said. “Police have to be on foot with the community, at social gatherings… just come as an ordinary Calgarian and mingle with the community and shake hands with people.”
It’s not clear yet what the strategy will look like when launched, but Cook said police are partnering with community groups as well as the RCMP to work on early intervention and prevention of radicalization.
According to documents presented to the city’s community and protective services committee, the main goals of the ReDirect Strategy are to “challenge the ideology that supports terrorism and those who promote it, protect vulnerable individuals and provide support to sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalization.”
Last October, a Calgary Police Service officer was among 30 Canadian police trained directly by UK officials. The training was part of the RCMP’s Countering Violent Extremism initiative, an intervention strategy launching across Canada this fall that is modelled off of the UK’s Channel strategy.
Calgary police did not say what factors will help them identify youth at risk, but the UK Channel strategy suggests officers look for feelings of injustice and a desire for status, which have escalated into a black-and-white worldview where violence is tolerated.
With files from Dylan Robertson, Calgary Herald