Barack Obama is hosting a meeting of 60 countries Thursday to tackle the difficult problem of homegrown terrorism as Western nations struggle for answers on how to deal with the radicalization of their citizens.
Federal Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney will attend for Canada, outlining new legislation that's sparked a debate about the right balance between security and civil rights. That includes intervention powers for Canada's spy agency that would allow agents to approach the parents and community leaders of would-be jihadis to stop their radicalization.
The government unveiled last month its anti-terror bill, which gives the Canadian Security Intelligence Service the authority to disrupt terrorist activity, including cancelling suspects' travel plans or blocking related financial transactions.
One of the lesser-publicized intended uses for these new powers, government officials say, is for CSIS to approach those who have influence over young people in the process of becoming radicalized. The spy agency is not currently authorized to flag concern over potential extremists with their families in this manner.
"CSIS would be able to go to the parents and say, 'We are here, we are happy to help. We understand your kid is at risk,' and we consider that one very essential part of preventing radicalization," a government official said.
The White House is taking pains to avoid singling out Islamist terrorism at the three-day Washington meeting despite the recent attacks at the offices of a Paris publication that mocked the Prophet Mohammed and indications that Muslim radicalization drove homegrown terror attacks in Canada, Sydney and most recently Copenhagen.
There are also indications that the influence of Islamic State militants who control parts of Iraq and Syria is growing. Egypt bombed Islamic State militants in Libya on Monday, one day after IS adherents there posted a video of the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians, and Denmark is recovering from last Saturday's shooting by a 22-year-old gunman who authorities believe became radicalized in prison.
But the Obama administration is reportedly trying to avoid framing recent violence as Islamic extremism so as not to legitimize the terrorist groups involved. The White House is calling its meeting the "Summit on Countering Violent Extremism," as opposed to terrorism, and will discuss other violent organizations such as FARC, the guerrilla organization known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
Debate continues in Canada over whether the attack on a Canadian soldier and Parliament on Oct. 22 was an act of terror or the work of a deranged individual and a parliamentary committee is taking steps to clear up disagreement over the motives of gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.
The Commons public safety committee on Tuesday adopted a motion inviting RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson to appear before MPs and make public a video the assailant recorded before his deadly assault. The committee called on Mr. Paulson to "publicly display and discuss the video made by the individual who committed barbaric terrorist acts in Ottawa on Oct. 22."
During his Washington visit Thursday, Mr. Blaney will also highlight the efforts of Hamilton's Muslim community to counter radicalization as well as Ottawa's Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security, which brings together community leaders to work on the matter.
The branding may have changed in Washington under Mr. Obama, but the fight remains the same as that waged by his predecessor.
Mr. Obama was quick to jettison the "war against terror" – former president George W. Bush's preferred description of the struggle.
But Mr. Obama has widened the armed conflict against violent ideological extremists.
While winding down the "boots on the ground" occupation of Iraq, the President has turned to Predator and Reaper drones armed with Hellfire missiles and clandestine raids by special forces from Yemen to Somalia and Pakistan, as well as a major continuing military presence in Afghanistan.
In recent months, Mr. Obama has also launched a new war, so far consisting of more than 1,000 air strikes by U.S. warplanes against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
With reports from the Associated Press