Politics

Stephen Harper pledges $10M to research terrorism, radicalization

On the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S., Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is committing new money to research terrorism and radicalization.

Conservative leader has made security a primary campaign issue

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper touted his government's record on security issues during a campaign stop in Quebec this morning. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

On the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S., Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is committing new money to research terrorism and radicalization.

Harper said Friday that a Tory government would provide $10 million over five years to the Kanishka Project, an initiative — established in 2011 and named in recognition of the 1985 Air India bombing that killed 331 people — to better understand radicalization and effective ways to prevent attacks.

The Kanishka Project is administered through Public Safety Canada and has funded research by academics both in Canada and abroad. For example, in October 2014 the government put out a call soliciting research on how jihadists use the internet, while in July it was announced that the project would provide $170,000 over two years to an Australian sociologist studying why some Canadians convert to Islam. 

Harper has made security a primary issue in the run-up to the Oct. 19 vote. He has stressed Canada's involvement in the U.S.-led military intervention against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as critical to the safety of Canadians. He has also been highly critical of the NDP and Liberals' opposition to Canada's military contribution to the anti-ISIS coalition.

"As long as the most violent and barbarous individuals in the world are committing massacres, as long as they're happy to boast about it, and as long as they continue to threaten to do the same things to Canada and Canadians, this Conservative government will remain in the international coalition fighting ISIS," Harper said.

In a release that accompanied Harper's speech in Victoriaville, Que., this morning, the Tories credited the military campaign with curbing ISIS' advances, saying "as a result of the coalition's military intervention. ISIS has lost a quarter of the territory it previously controlled." 

The fight against ISIS is deeply connected to the ongoing refugee crisis, which has recently become a central issue of the election campaign. Many of those people trying to reach European shores are fleeing violence in part fuelled by ISIS's multi-front war with rebel groups and the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, as well as with government forces in the northern regions of Iraq. 

The Tories have stressed the potential threat posed by accepting refugees from areas under the control of militant groups and that a rigorous and often lengthy screening process is necessary. The NDP and Liberals have strongly criticized the government for failing to expedite the process, while Harper has been steadfast that security concerns are paramount. 

During the campaign stop, Harper also reiterated his intention to ban travel to certain areas currently under the control of militant groups — an effort to stem the movement of foreign fighters back into Canada. The Tory release said that, in 2014, the government was aware of 80 people who had returned to the country after "engaging in terrorist activities and training" elsewhere in the world. 

Controversial bills

Harper also touted his government's record on implementing what it says are measures to increase security, including a number of controversial bills that amended Canada's citizenship framework and expanded the powers of the RCMP and CSIS, Canada's spy agency. 

Bill C-24 gave the government the authority to revoke the Canadian citizenship of any dual national convicted abroad of terrorism-related offences. Bill C-51, enacted largely in response to the shootings on Parliament Hill last October, expanded on police powers granted by legislation passed under a Liberal government after the Sept. 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people — 24 of them Canadian.  

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and wife, Laureen, make their way through the curtain in Victoriaville, Que. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Both bills have been heavily criticized by civil liberties groups, which argue they threaten fundamental rights protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

"We are pursuing measures that are being taken in other countries that preserve our liberties and freedom by strengthening our security," Harper said. 

"It's the opposition parties, for ideological reasons that are irresponsible, that are opposing these actions which are absolutely necessary."

'Tough actions' against Russia

During the campaign stop, Harper was also asked about media reports that Russian military personnel are currently operating in support of Assad's forces in Syria. While Russia has provided Syrian government forces with weapons and acted as an ally to Assad at the United Nations, the recent reports were the first indication that there may be Russian soldiers on the ground in Syria. 

The Tory leader has been a vocal critic of Russia's alleged involvement in the ongoing crisis between the Ukranian military and separatist forces in the eastern regions of Ukraine. 

"Look, in terms of Russian buildup in Syria, you know, what can I say?" Harper said. "The Russian government — and Mr. Putin — remains a government that complicates in dangerous and unhelpful ways security situations in the world. This is yet another example."

Harper said the allegation that Russia has sent troops to Syria "is consistent" with its actions elsewhere in the world.

"That is why we have been continuing to warn the world about Mr. Putin's intentions and why we will take tough actions against the Russian regime," he said. 

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With files from Catherine Cullen

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