Canada's senators are calling on the government to ramp up its efforts to thwart terrorism and radicalization by getting involved with the training and certification of imams in the country.
In a new report on security threats facing Canada released Wednesday, the Standing Committee on National Security and Defense offers the federal government 25 recommendations on how it can better deal with terrorist threats.
"The committee heard testimony from members of the Muslim community and others that some foreign-trained imams have been spreading extremist religious ideology and messages that are not in keeping with Canadian values," the report says.
It urges the government to "work with the provinces and the Muslim communities to investigate the options that are available for the training and certification of imams in Canada," but doesn't say whether the government should carry out the training process.
For the report, the committee members — the majority of whom are Conservatives — met with intelligence experts and police officers, as well as representatives from Toronto who "are concerned about terrorism and radicalization." The committee also held nine months of hearings where witnesses, including controversial Somali critic of Islam Ayaan Hirsi Ali, gave testimony.
The 26-page interim report, entitled Countering the Terrorist Threat in Canada, comes at a time when the government is taking heat from human rights advocates for its newly implemented anti-terror bill, which gives Canada's intelligence and law enforcement bodies more powers, and new legislation that strips dual Canadian citizens of their citizenship if they are found to be involved in terrorism.
While it's unclear just how persuasive the report will be to the federal government, opinions from the Senate, whose members are unelected, may impact future decisions by lawmakers.
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"Our goal is to lessen the risk to all Canadians, including the risk to vulnerable young Canadians who might be lured to extreme ideas and violent action," the report says.
"We must find every resource, tool and technique available to a civilised society to diminish and defeat a most uncivilised force."
Yasin Dwyer, a Canadian imam and former chaplain to Muslim offenders in Canadian federal prisons told VICE News the report's tone and recommendations are offensive and counterproductive to quashing terrorism. "The report is heavy on rhetoric and weak on practical solutions for creating effective counter-radicalization strategies," Dwyer said.
"The Canadian Muslim community is quite capable of choosing its own religious and spiritual authorities," he added, saying that it's patronizing to suggest otherwise.
Other recommendations from the committee include the creation of a "Wanted Terrorist List" and a "No-Visit List" that would publicly identify people deemed by the government as "ideological radicals" who would be prohibited from visiting Canada.
It suggests the government amend the Criminal Code to make it easier for law enforcement to lay terrorism charges and make it a crime to glorify terrorists and "terrorist symbols."
Canada's spy agency, CSIS, should also investigate The Muslim Brotherhood with the intent of figuring out whether it should be classified a terrorist group.
According to the report, an estimated 145 Canadians are believed to be abroad "providing support to terrorist groups," and 93 Canadians have sought to join Islamist groups such as the so-called Islamic State (IS), Boko Haram, al Shabaab, and al Qaeda. Another 80 "radicalized Canadians" have returned to Canada after "participating with terrorists overseas."
The report also notes that the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) — Canada's financial intelligence unit — uncovered 686 transactions related to "terrorist financing" from 2009 to 2014.
The report says the committee will report on cyber espionage and "threats to Canada's critical infrastructure" in the future, and also review the government's implementation of its recommendations.
Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne