In furtherance of a 2015 campaign promise, the Liberals recently launched the Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence, which “work(s) with youth, communities, academia and stakeholders to help prevent radicalization to violence in Canada.”
Bill C-371, the Prevention of Radicalization through Foreign Funding Act, would have been an important adjunct to this effort. The private member’s bill introduced by Conservative MP Tony Clement was premised on a simple proposition: Canadians would be better shielded from radicalization if their cultural, educational and religious institutions – part of the very bedrock of our multicultural society – were not subject to the pernicious influence of foreign states and individuals that endorse and advance extremist ideologies.
Accordingly, the legislation would have prohibited Canadian schools, cultural centres and places of worship from accepting funding from foreign states that are designated by Ottawa as promoting extremism and radicalization. These institutions would also be barred from receiving gifts or donations from the foreign state’s senior officials, members of their immediate families, their associates and any state-owned or controlled entities. The prohibition would equally apply to funds received from state or non-state actors that have promoted genocide or subversive activities against Canada, or that have expressed support for a listed terrorist entity. Penalties for an offending Canadian institution and its officers could include fines, loss of charitable status and even imprisonment.
Liberal democracies would have been immune, as the legislation had a built-in exemption for states with which Canada has an extradition treaty; while countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Pakistan would have been vulnerable.
Ottawa has been clear in its desire to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran. But the Trudeau government should not proceed without seriously considering Iran’s consistent use of its embassies to aid in “exporting the revolution,” indoctrinating and radicalizing Shia communities around the world and building networks that are sympathetic to the regime’s creed.
For example, in 2012, shortly before the Iranian embassy was shut down, Hamid Mohammadi, a cultural affairs counsellor in the embassy, gave a Persian-language interview, in which he spoke of the embassy’s outreach program, which included establishing new cultural centres and equipping Canadian universities with Farsi books. He urged Iranian-Canadians to “occupy high-level key positions” and “resist being melted into the dominant Canadian culture.” Since then, the properties of two Iranian cultural centres, located in Ottawa and Toronto, were seized and the proceeds distributed to victims of terror, as part a lawsuit against Tehran for its sponsorship of terrorism.
Saudi Arabia’s radicalizing influence on foreign populations has perhaps been felt even more profoundly. After visiting 80 countries, Farah Pandith, the U.S. State Department’s first-ever special representative to Muslim communities, concluded that the West “must disrupt the training of extremist imams and create imam training centres in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America that are free of Saudi funding and that offer a diversity of Islamic practices. Schools and libraries should reject free Saudi textbooks and translations that are filled with hate. We should expose the Saudi financing of extremist groups masquerading as cultural exchanges and ‘charity’ organizations.”
Given the Trudeau government’s emphasis on combating radicalization, Liberal MPs should have at least joined the Conservatives in voting for the bill to be sent to committee for study. Unfortunately, they failed to do so. If the foreign patrons of extremist ideologies are permitted to continue investing billions of dollars in Canadian institutions, the threat of domestic extremism and radicalization will only grow. The ball is now in the government’s court to come up with an effective alternative to C-371.