The Harper government is calling on communities associated with radicalized youth to single out extremist elements in their midst for security forces, saying it's necessary to fight terrorism.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews was responding to a Globe and Mail story about three University of Manitoba students who disappeared three years ago after flying to Pakistan, sparking an international terrorism investigation.
"We are very concerned about the radicalization of Canadian youth and then becoming not only radicalized but then going to fight jihad, becoming militarily trained and then of course coming back to Canada," Mr. Toews told a news conference on Sunday.
"I want to stress, again, that it's so very important that we have co-operation from the groups where these individuals are coming out of so that our security authorities can better assess the situation and protect Canadians."
The minister, who represents a southern Manitoba riding, urged groups that have spawned extremists to report their suspicions and held up Somali Canadians as an example.
"Some months ago, the Somali community approached the security authorities here in Canada expressing concern about their youth that had gone from Toronto overseas to fight jihad," Mr. Toews said. "I want to say that this is perhaps the most effective means of protecting Canadians against a terrorist threat."
The minister's comments troubled some Manitoba Muslims who insist they already maintain good relations with local law-enforcement agencies.
"Does he want us spying on each other?" said Shahina Siddiqui, a local community leader and executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association. "His comments give people the licence to go to authorities when they hear the slightest rumour. It gives the impression we are not co-operating."
Ms. Siddiqui says she has met with officials from both the RCMP and CSIS numerous times in the past to discuss various concerns among Winnipeg's Muslims.
The administrative body of two local mosques, the Manitoba Islamic Association, takes a similar approach. When a new MIA executive board took over last month, a meeting with CSIS was among the first orders of business.
A Globe and Mail story Friday revealed that University of Manitoba students Miawand Yar, Ferid Imam and Muhannad al-Ferekh left Canada in early 2007 and flew to Pakistan via Europe. Their whereabouts are unknown.
Early in the probe, CSIS investigators who interviewed students told them that the three men fled Canada to wage religious war.
"I'm not certain if they said the word jihad exactly, but they did believe the students had left for some kind of religious fighting," said Shariq Kidwai, former president of the student club and one of many local Muslims who CSIS questioned in late 2007.
Those early interviews snowballed into one of the largest security investigations in Canada since 9/11, with the FBI and CIA joining the chase. Investigators tracked the students to Peshawar, Pakistan, and then to the border region of Waziristan, a known al-Qaeda and Taliban stronghold.
Family and friends have not heard from the men since they left, save for a brief phone call from Mr. al-Farekh to his father and a letter written by Mr. Yar asking family to pay off his student loans.