Ottawa’s Algonquin College and its Muslim Student Association say they’re working to fight extremism after current and former members have been associated with a man charged with terrorism-related offences this week.
Awso Peshdary, 25, from Ottawa, was arrested by the RCMP on Tuesday and charged with conspiracy to facilitate a terrorist act, knowingly participating in the activities of a terror group and counselling a person to knowingly participate in a terrorist activity.
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During his first court appearance on Wednesday, a justice of the peace ordered Peshdary not to communicate with 14 possible witnesses, some of whom, like the accused, were involved with the college’s Muslim Student Association.
Later that afternoon, the association issued a statement saying it was "shocked and deeply disturbed” that former volunteers are now facing charges.
"Violent extremist ideology uses a cut-and-paste approach to our faith and distorts and perverts the teachings and example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him),” said the statement, emailed to CBC News by the association’s vice-president Adam Tulul.
"Our advice to anyone with grievances about issues like Canadian foreign policy or the status of Muslims living in Canada and abroad is to channel their energies proactively by becoming engaged citizens who express themselves through peaceful means, as well as who work to positively contribute to their communities.”
School faces 'challenge of radicalization'
A representative of the school responded to the court proceedings later on Wednesday, saying all students were emailed about the role they can play in "defending Canadian values" and creating a respectful environment.
"We were made aware of the arrests and I can't go into details, but I can tell you we work hand in hand with law enforcement,” said Doug Wotherspoon, the vice-president of international and strategic priorities at Algonquin College.
"Like all colleges and universities in Canada, we're faced with the challenge of radicalization in all its forms … we have an important role to play in creating an environment that helps protect against extremism taking root."
Wotherspoon said the school hadn't received any instances of what he called "hand-raising," where someone had seen someone expressing extremist views and pointed it out to them.
One of Peshdary’s co-accused, Khadar Khalib, 23, was a student at Algonquin College before leaving the country in March 2014.
Police believe Peshdary persuaded Khalib to join ISIS and radicalized another friend, John Maguire, who appeared in an ISIS video threatening Canada last year.
Another former member of the association, Abdullah Milton, is a Crown witness in the case against Peshdary.
It’s believed that Milton helped police build the case that led to Peshdary’s arrest.
Peshdary is scheduled to be back in court in Ottawa on Monday.