Saturday, February 17, 2007

RCMP, CSIS: (leaked) fury of ethnic outreach

The sound and the fury of ethnic outreach
RCMP, CSIS listen as communities vent, but is it getting anywhere?

Stewart Bell, National Post February 17, 2007

The Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security had a noble mission when it was set up three years ago: to engage the country's ethnic communities in Canada's fight against terrorism. Some now call it the "circus."

The round table's meetings, which bring together national security officials and community representatives, take place behind closed doors, but a leaked tape recording of a marathon session held last weekend suggests that its nickname is not entirely undeserved.

About 50 invited guests and a few gatecrashers gathered for eight hours last Sunday at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Toronto to pose questions to the city's top RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service counterterrorism officials. It did not begin well.

The first speaker, Ahmed Motiar, started off by sharing his curious theories of the 9/11 attacks, claiming that "Muslims were not involved and seven of the alleged 19 hijackers are alive and well!"

Then Cheryfa Jamal complained about a Canadian military exercise she said was held outside her children's Islamic school. (Her husband is one of the 18 men charged with belonging to an al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist group that was allegedly plotting truck bombings in downtown Toronto.)

"You're asking us here to have a dialogue, to bring our communities together, yet this is the kind of actions that we're facing every d ay," she said.

"My children came home upset. They thought the Americans had landed."

"Good lord," sighed another participant, before the meeting digressed into a shouting match between rival Muslim factions.

These kinds of "community outreach" meetings are taking place across Canada right now, as the government tries to combat terrorism by building bridges with ethnic communities in general and Muslims in particular.

Government agencies believe that stopping the next terrorist plot means gaining the confidence and co-operation of Canada's various ethnic communities. And so in Ottawa, Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto and elsewhere,

RCMP and CSIS officers have been spending their days off sitting through meetings like last Sunday's event, listening to a barrage of complaints and trying to clear up misconceptions about what they do and why they do it.

"We're going to continue to do our job," Andrew Ellis, who heads the Toronto regional CSIS office, told the round table meeting. "There continues to be individuals in this country who are representative of every community who are representing a threat, who are pursuing an agenda that's dangerous for all of us.

"And we all need to work together to be able to deal with that. Sometimes unfortunately these people are going to be arrested, they're going to be brought to justice and ? the criminal justice system will decide their guilt or innocence and let it rest there."

The 1985 Air India bombings that left 331 dead underscored the importance of gaining community trust: The RCMP and CSIS investigations were plagued by a lack of informants close to the Canadian-Sikh conspirators.

But the concept was not formalized until 2004, when the government released a National Security Policy that called for the creation of a round table that was to talk to Canadians about the impact of post-9/11 counterterrorism measures.

The urgency for community outreach gained momentum after the July 7, 2005, suicide bombings in London.

The attack by young Britons inspired by al-Qaeda awoke Western governments to the emerging threat: The radicalization that was taking place within their own Muslim communities.

Since then, some of Canada's top-ranking counter-terrorism officers have been spending their evenings and weekends attending Islamic conferences and community functions.

In addition to the round table, RCMP and CSIS officers have been meeting imams and other community members in less formal gatherings with specific themes such as youth radicalization.

They even briefed Muslim leaders about the June 2 arrests in the Toronto terror plot before the news was announced at a press conference.

The RCMP's Integrated National Security Enforcement Team in Toronto has been running a Citizens' Academy that brings in community leaders for 18 hours of training on what the Mounties do.

The CSIS outreach efforts have four goals: to ensure the various communities understand what CSIS does; to get a better sense of their concerns and try to address them; to develop an ongoing dialogue between the communities; and to recruit.

But the Toronto round table meeting highlights the barriers that officials still face three years on: angry, sometimes ill-informed ethnic community representatives unable to move beyond venting at government.

"How long are you going to vent for?" said Salma Siddiqui, a Muslim who sits on the round table. She said she is frustrated that government officials who come to meet community members have to listen to insults, finger- pointing and 9/11 conspiracy theories rather than introspection and constructive suggestions.

"For the past three years, government has been engaging with goodwill. The government has come out in goodwill to listen. Now the goodwill has to come from those self-proclaimed leaders to come forward with some concrete proposals on how to move forward."

The invited guests last weekend included representatives of the Canadian Tamil Congress (whose former communications director has been arrested for allegedly trying to buy missiles for the Tamil Tigers terror group), World Sikh Organization, Simon Wiesenthal Centre and lobby groups representing Armenians, Japanese and Jamaicans.

But it was Muslim concerns that dominated the discussion. Imam Ali Hindy, whose worshippers have included several suspected terrorists, complained about six Muslims not getting security clearances for sensitive government jobs.

The Canadian Arab Federation complained about Canada's Middle East policies and the "Muslim brothers" being deported for terrorism. It wanted to know whether CSIS was investigating Christians, Jews and Canadians serving in the Israeli Defence Forces.

A speaker accused the RCMP of instigating last summer's terrorist plot by planting an informant inside the cell.

Another complained that police had used "Hollywood action movie" tactics to arrest the Toronto terror suspects. "The humiliating way which has been used in arresting them, it really hurts the community. It annoys us and it make Muslims feel we are unfairly targeted."

A rare voice of support came from Munir Pervaiz of the Muslim Canadian Congress, who told the officials they need not apologize for what they do to protect Canadians. "You should be very aggressive, very assertive."

Through it all, Inspector Jamie Jagoe of the RCMP and Mr. Ellis, the CSIS representative, replied that government policy was changed at the ballot box and that their only interest was in stopping acts of terrorist violence.

"Is there a credibility gap? Yes," Mr. Ellis said.

"Do we need to do more outreach? Yes. Do we need to have a better communication strategy? Yes. Do we have to do this together? Yes.

"And all I can say is, let's keep doing this and having people freely express their views. And we'll try and manage it and deal with it. We're all human beings at the end of the day and we have a job to do and we'll continue to do that job. But we'll do it with sensitivity and we'll do it with respect.

"I think someone made the comment earlier that this is a two-way street. You can't have one hand clapping. Bravo, I couldn't agree more. We all have to come to the middle on this thing."


Jan_ from_ BruceCounty said...

Through it all, Inspector Jamie Jagoe of the RCMP and Mr. Ellis, the CSIS representative, replied that government policy was changed at the ballot box and that their only interest was in stopping acts of terrorist violence. That was an interesting comment and observation. Could it be said, but silent here, that the new Harper govt is not interested in building bridges with visible minorities communities, and particularly is highly suspicious of the 'muslim community, and thus sees 'terrorist' behind very veil and in every mosque? Just wondering on your take on that comment or others for that matter.

audacious said...

i totally agree with your observation. it is harper, it is bush, and how many others. contagious and taking on like an epidemic. and for what reason, race / creed ... to be marked. yet, how many young innocent children are tarnished ...

and we are an apparent civilized society? so much for mankind or the human race.

No Yards said...

I'd have an easier time believing that tis was an actual attempt at reaching out if the Ara matter hadn't have happened, or if the RCMP and CSIS would reveal who passed the information on to the US, why they distorted it, and who leaked the lies to the press in an attempt to defame Arar.

While the RCMP and CSIS continue to hide the truth they deserve no trust from any Canadian.