I have just returned to Canada from two weeks in Australia where, in addition to soaring temperatures and seeing an actual platypus in the wild, I attended a Canada-Australia symposium on youth radicalisation held in Brisbane. The conference was organised by our High Commission in Canberra and I was honoured to be asked to give the keynote address on Wednesday night as well as two more talks on Thursday and an interview with ABC (their CBC) to boot.
The conference brought together academics, community members and an impressive array of practitioners from Canada (RCMP) and Australia (several state law enforcement agencies). Over the three days a lot was shared and it was clear that no one held back. The discussions were frank and open.
It is not my intent to summarise all the presentations delivered here, but merely to provide a few impressions on the nature of CVE in Australia and the challenges remaining.
First I want to note that a lot has already been started in that country. Many people have given serious thought to the issue of radicalisation and I was pleased to see the commitment on all sides.
Two things struck me however. On the one hand , there was a palpable mistrust and lack of credibility shown and voiced by community members and government/law enforcement. Several people reported anecdotal stories of individuals no-flyed because they had Muslim-sounding names and others complained that non-Muslims involved in violent extremism seemed to be treated differently than Muslims. The issue of why Australians who fight with Kurdish forces in Iraq aren’t being prosecuted (Australia’s version of our Foreign Enlistments Act is called the Foreign Incursions Act: in both countries fighting for a foreign army is illegal). I saw resignation and disbelief on the faces of many over those three days.
On the other hand, I can’t help but comment on unrealistic expectations that came up at times. One participant, who erroneously stated that most people who radicalise to violence are uneducated, asked for free post-secondary schooling to divert those from an extremist pathway. Many criticised the way the Australian media treats Muslims and uses charged language – as if the government can do anything about that.
While at times I felt that I was viewing two solitudes I also noted some very competent and passionate people who want to make a difference. The road will be hard in Australia but there are good people who want to try.
I also had the opportunity to reflect on how we do CVE up here in Canada. Many in the symposium praised our efforts and our success at “doing” multiculturalism. The new government in particular drew a lot of kudos for the change in tone it has brought early in its mandate.
I thus walked away proud of what we have achieved. Yes, many hurdles remain and we will make mistakes, but we can take credit for our efforts. We have some of the same issues I saw in Brisbane, but we too are dealing with them. Other countries are looking at Canada as they try to wrap their heads around CVE (UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently visited Montreal where he lauded that city’s de-radicalisation programme – see story here).
I look forward to the future of CVE here and elsewhere. My congratulations to the Canadian High Commission in Australia and especially to High Commissioner Paul Maddison and his staff for an excellent programme.