Schools have role to play in preventing radicalization, report says

With a new school year looming, Montreal's anti-radicalization centre is urging schools to get involved in preventing students from becoming radicalized.

As venues where young people interact, schools must be involved in prevention, according to Montreal centre

The news that five post-secondary students at Montreal CEGEP Collège de Maisonneuve left the country to go to the Middle East territory controlled by ISIS motivated researchers to look into the relationship between schools and radicalization. (Radio-Canada)

With a new school year looming, Montreal's anti-radicalization centre is urging Quebec schools to play a role in preventing students from becoming radicalized.

The revelation that five post-secondary students at Montreal CEGEP Collège de Maisonneuve left the country by plane to go to the Middle East territory controlled by ISIS was part of the push to look deeper into the relationship between schools and radicalization.

A report published by the anti-radicalization centre and made public Friday says schools are affected by radicalization more than other settings because they gather together young people who are in the process of building their social and personal identities and serve as venues for contact and interaction among young people.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said he was pleased with the report because it means the solution won't focus only on specific communities. 

"The name of the game is you don't profile," Coderre said. "The name of the game is saying that to the Muslim community, 'You're at home, you're welcome. That you're part of our national treasure. That you can be equal and different at the same time.'"

The centre came to the conclusions in the report by consulting documents and conducting interviews.

Who is being radicalized?

The centre looked at 11 Collège de Maisonneuve students who either left for Syria, were arrested at the airport or were awaiting trial for terrorist-related charges and noted some similarities:

  • Age: All of the students were 18 and 19 years old. Research shows radicalization leading to violence is an issue linked to adolescence and early adulthood.
  • Marital status: There were several couples in the group, highlighting the role played by relationships in radicalization.
  • Education: Most were in sciences, some with hopes of becoming doctors or nurses. Those aspirations may have been a motivator in their decision to leave or attempt to leave.
  • Religiosity: All the students came from relatively stable family backgrounds with moderate Muslim religious practices. The researchers found the Quebec adolescents of Muslim faith experience identity-related anxiety due in part to feeling misrepresented and singled out in international and Quebec media.
Montrealers Sabrine Djaermane and El Mahdi Jamali, who have been identified as boyfriend and girlfriend, are were students Collège de Maisonneuve. Both are facing four terror-related charges. (Radio-Canada)

International and local motivators

The report identified how various international events, such as the so-called War on Terror after the Sept. 11 attacks, led to repeated feelings of humiliation, frustration, and injustice with how the Muslim world has been treated by the West.

But those events reverberated locally as well.

The Bouchard-Taylor commission on reasonable accommodation, the Charter of Values debate and the ensuing polarization around Islam and Muslims in Quebec led to some youth to feel like they were under attack.

Quebec-wide changes?

Recommendations specific to Collège de Maisonneuve included implementing measures aimed at integration, fostering togetherness within the school community and improving communication between school staff in order to better support students who need it.

The arrests of young people destined for Turkey and Syria last year prompted Montreal's anti-radicalization centre to look at the role schools play in preventing young people from joining extremist groups. (Radio-Canada)

In a statement, the school said it has already put in place measures that address the concerns brought up in the report, such as more training for staff and the need for research on different factors involved in radicalization.

The report also details a set of proposals for the provincial education ministry, including:

  • Provide training for all school staff in the prevention and detection of violent radicalization.
  • Encouraging schools to promote and recognize intercultural and community involvement by students.
  • Implementing a procedure whereby secondary schools, colleges and universities communicate about students deemed to be susceptible to radicalization.
  • Enabling school administrators to regulate how psychosocial support is doled out to students deemed to be vulnerable.

According to the centre, since 2013, between 130 and 250 Canadians, 20 to 30 of them Quebecers, have gone to Syria.