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The RCMP and advocacy organizations are warning about a rise in online extremism in Canada after the arrest of an Ottawa youth who is facing terrorism-related charges for allegedly plotting an attack on Jewish people.

The Mounties announced over the weekend that the youth was arrested on Friday and charged with two offences: facilitating a “terrorist activity” by communicating instructional material pertaining to an explosive substance; and knowingly instructing a person to carry out terrorism against Jewish people.

The individual cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The RCMP did not release the age of the teen who appeared briefly in court on Saturday and remains in custody. Another court appearance is scheduled for Monday morning.

This case coincides with what the police said is a “concerning trend of violent extremism and terrorist use of the internet, including amongst young persons.” The RCMP have arrested five youths since June on terrorism-related offences.

Jewish and Muslim communities across Canada have expressed concern that hate-motivated incidents are on the rise as a result of the Israel-Hamas war, which has inflamed cultural and religious tensions. Police in many major cities across Canada have increased their presence at protests and religious institutions in response, amid reports of antisemitic and anti-Muslim graffiti, assaults and online hate since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe, in an interview with The Globe and Mail on Sunday, said the capital city is not immune to the forces fuelling antisemitism elsewhere. “We will work as hard as we can to make Ottawa a place that is free from antisemitism and hatred and racism of all kinds,” he said.

The Jewish Federation of Ottawa, in a statement posted on Sunday, said it was grateful to police “for their proactive protection of the Jewish community,” including increased patrols. The organization advised “heightened awareness and diligence” of security protocols and encouraged community members to report anything out of the ordinary.

“Jewish Ottawa stands united as a resilient community,” said the federation. “Together, we will not only weather these challenges but also continue to thrive, in solidarity, and with unwavering support for one another.”

B’nai Brith Canada, one of the country’s oldest Jewish human-rights organizations, produces an annual audit of antisemitism based on incidents reported to and monitored by the organization, as well as police data and other sources.

The audits include incidents that both meet or fall short of the Criminal Code definition of a hate crime, forming what the organization says is a more accurate depiction of “antisemitism as a phenomenon in Canada.”

Nearly 2,800 antisemitic incidents were tracked last year by B’nai Brith Canada. This represented a slight decline – roughly 1 per cent – compared with 2021 and was the first year-over-year decrease since 2015.

B’nai Brith said this was “welcome news” but that antisemitism is increasingly moving online as in-person incidents of harassment steadily decrease. In 2022, three-quarters of all incidents occurred online.

“Social media has become the largest medium for antisemitic narratives, giving purveyors of hate a global audience and limitless reach,” the organization said. “Canada’s laws have failed to keep pace with the explosion of antisemitism in online spaces, allowing this phenomenon to go unchecked.”

The RCMP, in its Saturday press release, asked people in positions of authority, such as parents or teachers, to be alert for signs of radicalization in young people. The service said signs of religious, ideological or politically motivated extremism should not be ignored and can stem from a range of motivations, whether driven by hate, fear or personal grievances.

Behaviours of concern, the RCMP says, include associating with groups that support violence, attempts to recruit others to a certain cause, the denial of other people’s humanity, extreme anti-government views and expressing their intent to carry out violent acts.

Three of the five youths charged by the RCMP with terrorism-related offences since June are from Calgary. The youths – aged 15, 16 and 17 – were arrested as part of the same national-security investigation, which also saw charges laid against 20-year-old Zakarya Hussein.

The court heard, earlier this month, details of the 17-year-old’s social-media use on sites like TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat, including of a video in which he taped himself calling for violence against gay people while at a protest in support of the LGBTQ community.

RCMP Constable Trevor Checkley testified that the 17-year-old told investigators that the gay community was a threat to his religion. Constable Checkley also said that the youth was part of a Snapchat group, translated to “Islamic State Soldiers of Allah,” with 17 other people.

The teen is prohibited from accessing social media and must participate in an intervention plan focused on ideological extremism.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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