Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Calgary Police Inspector Leah Barber and federal minister Kent Hehr meet with reporters in Calgary on Monday to announce funding for a program to prevent the radicalization of youth.

Calgary pilot project to prevent youth radicalization gets full federal funding

CALGARY — A pilot project aimed at giving young people a sense of belonging so that they are less vulnerable to recruitment by criminal or terrorist groups will continue with full funding from the federal government.

Police and community organizations in Calgary launched the Redirect program in 2015 to help young people deemed vulnerable to radicalization. It was announced Monday that it is to receive $1.3 million from Ottawa over five years.

“The program has two main goals: preventing young adults from turning to extremism and helping police officers better recognize the signs of radicalization and violent extremism in our city,” police Insp. Leah Barber said Monday.

“The biggest part of this is to make sure they feel like they’re part of their own community, so they don’t want to be violent toward it, or they don’t want to fly across the world to be part of something that’s violent.

“We want them to feel like they belong here.”

A report last year on the terrorist threat in Canada said that there were more than 130 Canadians at the start of 2014 who were abroad and suspected of terror-related activities.

By the end of 2015, the number had grown to about 180, and the government knew of about 60 extremists who had returned to Canada.

The program looks for at-risk youth and links them with a police officer and a social worker who attempt to steer them from dangerous ideologies.

“We get our referrals from the schools and the community. They come forward and say they’re worried about the youth and then we engage with that family … to make sure they’re getting the help that they need,” Barber said.

Behaviour identified as worrisome includes cutting off contact with friends and family, hanging out with a new group, adopting extreme ideologies that support violence and being in active contact with extremist terrorist groups or networks.

“It could be a young person that brings a gun to school. It could be the Islam kind of radicalization with ISIS. It could be any form of violent behaviour,” said Barber.

The increased funding will allow the program to expand and offer more support to the community.

Federal Sports Minister Kent Hehr, who is also a Calgary MP, attended Monday’s news conference on behalf of Ralph Goodale, minister of public safety and emergency preparedness.

“I know all too well that despite being a fundamentally safe and peaceful city, Calgary is not immune to violence. No city is,” said Hehr.

“While we’ve always had to deal with criminals of all kinds, we’re facing a new type of threat,” he said. “The tragic reality is that youth, who are not engaged in their community, who do not feel part of their community … can be radicalized to violence.”

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