Plan to deal with returning ISIS fighters sparks fiery exchange between Scheer, PM
In an explosive shouting match in the House of Commons Tuesday, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accused the Liberal government of going easy on suspected ISIS terrorists returning to Canada, while the prime minister blamed the Conservatives for “trying to scare Canadians.”
The Conservatives have repeatedly hammered the government’s plan to rehabilitate ISIS fighters who return to Canada. Earlier this year, the government established a counter-radicalization centre, the Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence, in a bid to counter extremism.
In his opening remarks in question period, Scheer asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau why his government is “so focused on reintegration and not putting these people in jail.”
Trudeau responded that the government has a broad range of tools to keep Canadians safe, including “enforcement, surveillance and national security tools.”
“But we also have methods of de-emphasizing or de-programming people who want to harm our society,” Trudeau said.
Scheer shot back by accusing the Liberals of having too soft an approach.
“This prime minister is using a broad spectrum that includes poetry and podcasts and all kinds of counselling and group hug sessions. Mr. Speaker, when will the prime minister take the security of Canadians seriously and look for ways to put these ISIS fighters in jail?”
Trudeau appeared visibly angry by Scheer’s comments and raised his voice above hecklers to suggest that the Conservatives “learned nothing” from the last election.
“They ran an election on snitch lines against Muslims. They ran an election on Islamophobia and division. And still they play the same games trying to scare Canadians. The fact is, we focus on the security of Canadians and we always will. And they play politics of fear. And Canadians reject that,” Trudeau said.
Scheer responded by doubling down on his poetry reference and saying that, when ISIS fighters return to Canada, “they don’t need to spend time writing haikus. They need to spend time in jail.”
“Mr. Speaker, nobody voted in the last election to elect a government that would be so focused on the rights of ISIS terrorists.”
The fiery exchange comes after Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told CTV’s Question Period that the chances of reintegrating ISIS fighters is “pretty remote” and that collecting evidence and prosecuting should happen “whenever you can.”
"If you want to have a good solid hope of some kind of successful intervention, it has to be at a much earlier stage. You have to prevent the problem before it exists," Goodale said.
Since the Liberals took office, charges have been laid in two cases involving individuals suspected of participating in terrorist activities abroad. Goodale told CTV’s Question Period that the difficulty with pressing charges against suspected terrorists is finding viable intelligence that can be used as evidence in court.
Canadian officials continue to revoke passports and are harnessing surveillance in efforts to closely watch individuals who return to Canada.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service has said it knows of at least 180 individuals with a connection to Canada suspected of terrorist activity overseas. About half of those are believed to have travelled to Syria or Iraq.
Lorne Dawson, a University of Waterloo sociology professor and project director for the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society, has challenged the notion that terrorists retuning to Canada can’t be rehabilitated.
Dawson said that many terrorist travellers are disillusioned by the time they return home, and others suffer from trauma. Others, he said, may be focused on returning to a more normal life after feeling they have fought for their cause overseas.
"No credible expert in the world thinks you arrest your way out of jihadist radicalization -- it's a social movement," Dawson told the Canadian Press. "You can't possibly arrest all the people who are engaged with this ideology.”
With files from The Canadian Press