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France shows West the smart way to fight IS at home

Kent Roach is at the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto and Craig Forcese is at the Faculty of Law (Common Law) at the University of Ottawa. They both teach and write in the national security area including at www.antiterrorlaw.ca.

By early 2014, CSIS reported an estimated 130 Canadians with suspected ties to armed groups or terrorists were in Syria. How should Canada respond?

With a "smart strategy" deploying tools reducing "demand" for, and "supply", of influences causing people to radicalize to violence.

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On the demand side, stigmatize radicalization. One tool is counter-narrative. France, with more than 900 of its citizens fighting for ISIS, is using a three-minute, slickly produced video that focuses on ISIS atrocities, including its un-Islamic character.

This is a good idea, and government's strategies should also include "Internet safety and awareness programs," sensitizing young people and their parents to extremist messaging.

We underscore the importance of working with Muslim communities to produce similar videos and strategies revealing the brutal and un-Islamic nature of terrorism. To do so, the government must not allow its fear and anger push away Muslims, even those with some radical tendencies. The issue should be violence, not mosques or niqabs.

Radicalization to violence is a social problem, and it requires an all-of-society response. New legislation in the U.K. was controversial in imposing legal deradicalization duties on universities, but the idea of responding collectively through local governments, health authorities, and prisons is an excellent one. The provinces and their service providers have a role to play in national security.

Another obvious strategy, straddling "demand" and "supply" tools, are criminal charges. The recent Ottawa arrests demonstrate the value of offences that Canada enacted in 2013 that criminalize attempting or leaving Canada to engage in terrorism abroad. The criminal law can be an effective counter-narrative that denounces terrorism and incapacitates terrorists.

Prosecutors have brought more than 20 prosecutions under the post-9/11 terrorism laws prosecutions, including a case that involved terrorist propaganda. They have lost only one case that went to trial.

What about on the "supply" side?

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But the devil, as always, is in the details.

Bill C-51, the government's new anti-terror law project, defines "terrorist propaganda" as including any material that "advocates or promotes the commission of terrorism offences in general...or counsels the commission of a terrorist offence."

As we have outlined at www.antiterrorlaw.ca, "terrorism offences in general" is too broad, and sweeps in too much speech that is too far from real violence.

A consequential amendment in C-51 also raises alarm bells. It would add "terrorist propaganda" to the tariff that allows customs officials to seize and confiscate obscene material and hate propaganda.

Customs officials have had difficulties correctly identifying what is "obscene" under our laws. A gay and lesbian bookstore proved it had been profiled by customs officials in violation of freedom of expression and equality rights. Even after the Supreme Court judgment, it continued to have problems. Will customs officials have the same trouble applying the new and overbroad category of "terrorist propaganda"?

Let us be attentive to the facts in our response to foreign terrorist fighting; the details matter. All political parties and all Canadians need a better understanding of what is in the omnibus anti-terrorism bill C-51 to determine whether it is a smart way to fight a real threat.

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