Preventing Prison Radicalization in Canada: More needs to be done

In a few short weeks, Canadians should expect to finally close the book on the Toronto 18.

The last member of the terrorist cell behind Canada’s most notorious homegrown conspiracy, Shareef Abdelhaleem, is expected to receive his prison sentence in March 2011. Found guilty of terrorism offenses in January 2010, Abdelhaleem faces the prospect of a life sentence. He’ll join ten other members of the Toronto 18 and two other convicted homegrown Islamist terrorists, Momin Khawaja and Said Namouh (both serving life sentences) convicted of participating in terrorism.

All of this is good news; locking up terrorists keeps Canadians safe. And yet, Canadians are now waking up to the fact that terrorism offenses do not simply end with the conviction and imprisonment of would-be bombers. It’s what happens behind bars that should worry Canadians, too.

In October 2010, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI) published From Rehabilitation to Recruitment. Written by MLI Fellow Alex Wilner (co-author of this Commentary), the report was the first of its kind to proactively discuss the threat of radicalization and terrorist recruitment in Canada’s prison system. Laying out a series of policy steps necessary for keeping our prisons from becoming fertile recruiting soil for homegrown terrorism, the report hit the mark. Its publication was extensively covered in print and broadcast media and Dr. Wilner was asked to give expert testimony before the Special Senate Committee on Anti-Terrorism in Ottawa in December 2010.

Recently, MLI has learnt that prison radicalization has topped the list of security concerns at Public Safely Canada, Correctional Service Canada (CSC), CSIS, and the RCMP. According to our sources, Islamist radicalization and terrorist recruitment in Canada’s prison system is viewed as a grave threat to national security. Building on From Rehabilitation to Recruitment, this brief focuses on four concerns that continue to plague Canadian security officials.

The full commentary can be read here.