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Canada Doubles Spending on Counter-Radicalization

Justin Trudeau has committed $35 million to fight terrorism at home, but that's just about the only national security spending that the 2016 budget offers.
March 22, 2016, 10:10pm
Photo via David Kawai

The Canadian government is doubling its support for programs to prevent radicalization, but couldn't find any new cash for the overworked agencies that keep tabs on the country's spies. The lack of funding has one national security expert worried.

Amid controversy last year over Justin Trudeau's support for anti-terrorism Bill C-51, the Liberals pledged to create an office that would tackle radicalization.

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In its first budget Tuesday afternoon, the government revealed the new office of the Community Outreach and Counter-radicalization Co-ordinator will receive an additional $35 million over five years.

The office will receive just $3 million in 2016, with the funding ramping up to $10 million in future years.

"Grassroots communities across Canada have been doing this anti-radicalization work for years, with almost no resources from the government."

For the sake of comparison, Canada's domestic anti-radicalization regime will receive less funding from this budget than another counter-terrorism program in Africa. Morneau's budget commits $30 million over three years to counter-terrorism officers in Africa's Sahel region.

The officials say the domestic anti-radicalization money supports "a whole-of-government approach" that involves the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), border agents, local governments and community groups.

Asked about the relatively scant funding for security measures, Morneau said simply that "this is obviously a very important topic for us, and reinforced on a day like today," referring to the attacks on Brussels, adding that "working together with provinces and territories, we expect to make a real difference in this area over the course of the next year," but did not comment specifically. He said Tuesday's announcements were "first steps."

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Hussein Hamdani, who has helped dissuaded radicalized youth in Hamilton, Ontario over the past decade, says the funding marks a sea change in what has been a top-down approach to terrorism.

"Grassroots communities across Canada have been doing this anti-radicalization work for years, with almost no resources from the government," says Hamdani, who served on the government's terrorism advisory panel until last year.

Hamdani also praised the idea of a central position to "champion" anti-radicalization work inside and outside of government.

"Under the last government, there was a real disfunction with people looking at each other wondering who is in charge of this."

A year ago, the Conservatives pledged $3.1 million for a fledgling RCMP intervention strategy. Modelled off a British program, specially trained cops would detect people at risk of being radicalized and surround them with social support, like housing support and counselling.

Tuesday's budget provides more than double that amount per year, though the money will be split between intervention programs, research and coordinating programs that already exist.

Calgary police and Montreal city officials launched their own intervention programs in the past year, after each saw dozens of young people leave to join terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria.

Related: An Anti-Radicalization Center in Montreal Isn't Officially Open Yet — But It's Already Busy

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Tuesday's budget does not earmark any increased funding for the RCMP, aside from funding to relocate a forensic laboratory.

Virtually the only new security funding goes towards cybersecurity, which has been a particular preoccupation for Ottawa, as it faces a litany of cyberattacks every week. The head of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) which handles both cybersecurity and signals intelligence for the government, told a Senate committee on Monday that the government faces millions of "cyber actions" per day, but didn't elaborate on what that means.

Even so, the budget affords just $77.4 in new funding for cybersecurity over five years.

While there's new money for the coast guard, the budget also offers no new funding for the Canadian military. In fact, it moves some $3.7 billion in funding for procurement projects into further down the line — pushing the cash five years down the line, telling reporters that "it's necessary for [the military] to have the money when they need it,' despite the fact that the military will functionally have nearly $4 billion less in funding in the short term. The budget does, however, earmark some $4 billion in new spending for programs to support Canada's veterans.

Perhaps most notably on the national security file, the budget provides no new money for two bodies that review Canada's spy work, despite each agency reporting an uptick in operations and scrutiny.

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Related: Canada Discovers It's Under Attack by Dozens of State-Sponsored Hackers

CSIS agents have their actions reviewed after-the-fact by the external Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which reports to Parliament. The committee's budget hovers around a paltry $3 million per year — an amount that it admits is woefully insufficient. CSE, which is akin to the American NSA, is monitored by an independent commissioner, which runs on roughly $1.6 million a year.

The lack of new funding has one of Canada's most prominent terrorism experts alarmed about the lack of funds for CSIS watchdog.

Under Bill C-51, CSIS agents can now move past simply investigating, to "disrupt" threats by tapping phones or arresting people they believe are about to commit a terrorist attack.

"Now that they have to deal with threat disruption, there's a real concern about SIRC being able to do its job," says Craig Forcese, a University of Ottawa national security law professor who co-authored a thorough analysis of Bill C-51.

"Now it's essentially doubling its mandate with the same funding," Forcese said, adding that SIRC funding has lagged behind CSIS' growth since its 1984 inception. "Why the heck is it not $5 million?"

In last April's budget, the Conservatives pledged to double the committee's average annual funding to $5.2 million, though even that was ranked as insufficient.

Senator Colin Kenny, who sat on the Senate national security committee, has said the agency needs $10 million to be truly effective.

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The Liberals have discussed a parliamentary committee that would have access to oversee both agencies, but have yet to reveal any specific plan.

Hamdani says the government should either beef up Canada's review bodies or cut back spies' powers, in order to build stronger ties with the communities that are tackling terrorism.

"Everything is connected," he said. "But it seems they're moving in the right direction."

Related: Canadian Spies Get Spanked Again For Sharing Citizens' Data With the NSA

Morneau, when asked, would not comment specifically on the lack of funding for oversight on the two agencies.

The government is also boosting funding for its overstretched border services agency, after a damning audit released in February found that Canada might be helping groups abroad build weapons of mass destruction.

Tuesday's budget allocates $13.9 million over five years for the Canada Border Services Agency to improve its high-risk export screening, which might update a system split between computer databases and written forms that sees hundreds of parcels leave Canada without being inspected.

No new money is going, however, to oversee the CBSA — which currently has no body reviewing the practises of its agents, or its detention facilities. That's something that Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has promised to start work on.