She is the Calgary mother whose 22-year-old son left home to join an Islamic terrorist group and ultimately died fighting in Syria. Christianne Boudreau recounts the radicalization of Damian Clairmont and says she is not impressed with Stephen Harper's campaign pledge. He wants to make it a crime for Canadians to travel to select countries where they could end up fighting alongside extremists. Ms. Boudreau talked to Allan Maki.
Why are you opposed to Mr. Harper's proposed law?
A few people have said it's a great idea. But then I explain to them it's smoke and mirrors because the politicians are not really doing anything about the problem. They've cut back all the programs in prisons for counselling. They've cut back a lot of resources for youth. That's what they've done; it's cut, cut, cut … [The politicians] are thinking, 'We'll give it harsh words and it will look like we're doing something.' The only way [the terrorists] are getting in is through other countries. So what are you going to do – stop them from going to the surrounding countries as well? It's not well thought out. It's just whole window dressing, smoke and mirrors. They can fool everybody because people are just not educated in this topic and that makes it easy for politicians to turn it around for an election program.
If the federal government passed a law forbidding travel to terrorist regions, would it make a difference?
A lot of the fixes and the laws and the rigidity, that's at the back end. That's dealing with the symptoms. The root cause of the problem is something completely different even if it's not radicalization in this sense. And going over to join ISIS – you're still looking at white supremacy on the rise and lots of other different cults. So there's a root problem we really have to start looking at. We can't just turn a blind eye and think that by throwing everybody in jail that fixes it.
Looking back, did you misread your son's behaviour leading up to his departure?
There was a ton of signs. First of all, I didn't know what I was dealing with. I didn't know the phenomena [radicalization] existed. But still, the social signs are there because they start cutting themselves off from their regular group of friends. They start becoming very private, withdrawn. He wasn't going to his usual mosque any more … He had a couple of friends on the computer he was writing to, specifically a girl who was Muslim, and he started listening to her opinions. After his bout of depression and his suicide attempt [he was 17 then] he stopped coming to church with me. He said, 'I need to find something with meaning because here I am still alive and I feel like I've wasted my life.'
How emotional was your son's departure?
In his case, I didn't have much heads up he was going to leave home. The [attitude] changes happened over a long period of time. Starting in early 2011, up until his leaving in November 2012, other youths converted and then six weeks later they were gone … I will never ever forget how Damian left. He told us leading up to it that he was planning on travelling to Egypt to go to school. There was something in my gut that made me think he was not going to go to school. When he called me from the plane [in Calgary before takeoff] it hit me really, really hard. I cried all day … I found out [he had been killed] when a reporter got a tweet with Damian's eulogy and his Christian name and a picture beside it and wanted to make sure it was him.
Do you believe there can ever be a world free of terrorism?
I have hope because I know there are a lot of people out there who want to make a difference and people who are coming forward and trying to work toward that. The U.S. government has approached me about doing some prevention work and coming on board. So I can see people are starting to understand and wanting to put things in place. As long as these little glimmers of hope are out there you just can't give up. These are our youth and we have to keep trying.
This interview has been edited and condensed.