RCMP warn about spike in online extremism among Canadian youth
The Canadian PressNews extremism radicalization rcmp
By Mia Rabson in Ottawa
RCMP are warning about a rise in violent extremism among Canadian youth, while Jewish leaders urge community members to be diligent about security after two teenagers were arrested on terror-related charges in the last five days.
The Mounties say five Canadian youth have been arrested in terror-related cases since June.
“The RCMP is seeing a concerning trend of violent extremism and terrorist use of the internet, including amongst young persons,” the Mounties said in a statement Saturday.
The statement asked “adults in positions of authority” including parents, guardians, teachers, and coaches, “to be alert for behaviours of concern which may be linked to violent extremism.”
Jewish and Muslim leaders across Canada have reported an increase in hate-motivated attacks since the terrorist attacks launched by Hamas on Israel on Oct. 7, and the massive military response by Israel in Gaza.
Police have made arrests in several hate-motivated incidents, including assaults and the promotion of hatred online.
The RCMP’s warning Saturday specifically addresses the radicalization of youth, often online.
The most recent case involved an Ottawa teen arrested Friday and charged in connection with a plot against the city’s Jewish community. Because of the youth’s age, police did not release much information about the accused, including who or what they were targeting beyond a general description of “Jewish persons.”
The teen appeared in court briefly Saturday and remains in custody with another court appearance scheduled for Monday morning. The youth is charged with facilitating a terrorist activity by communicating instructions about an explosive substance, and with knowingly instructing someone else to carry out a terrorist activity.
It is not known if anyone else is being investigated in connection to that case.
The Jewish Federation of Ottawa said in an email to community members Sunday that police confirmed there is no risk to the community because the teen is now in custody.
Ottawa Police have increased patrols of Jewish institutions, including synagogues, community centres and schools. But the Jewish Federation said police continue to encourage the community to be vigilant.
“We ask that everyone exercise heightened awareness and diligence in following security protocols,” the email said.
Gerry Almendrades, the community security director for the Centre for Jewish and Israel Affairs, said incidents like the new charges laid in Ottawa Saturday are the “culmination” of tolerating antisemitism in Canada.
He said he is reassured the Canadian security and intelligence agencies picked up on the threat and addressed it quickly.
RCMP said the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre, along with provincial and municipal police, provided “indispensable collaboration” in the case.
Two days before the Ottawa youth was arrested, the RCMP Federal Policing Integrated National Security Enforcement Team arrested a 16-year-old in Calgary related to an ongoing terrorism investigation in that city.
He was arrested and released pending a terrorism peace bond hearing, under a provision of the Criminal Code allowing for the Crown to seek something similar to bail conditions for someone the Crown has reasonable grounds to fear may commit a terrorism offence.
The teen is the fourth person, and third teenager, arrested in that investigation.
The Canadian Press has asked the RCMP for information about the fifth youth arrested for terrorism activities but police did not immediately respond.
It has also sought reaction from Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc. The federal Liberals have been promising new legislation for several years to tackle rising online hatred, but progress has been delayed, in part because of the complexities between combating hatred and freedom of speech.
Chantalle Aubertin, spokesperson for Justice Minister Arif Virani, declined to comment on specific cases that are before the courts, but said Virani is working with Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge and Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc to introduce legislation to keep young people safe from online hatred and other dangers.
“Against the backdrop of the ongoing geopolitical conflicts, we are seeing concerning trends where online radicalization, including hate speech, manifests physically. This is unacceptable. We must put a stop to rising antisemitism and Islamophobia,” Aubertin said in an emailed statement.
“But we must take time to do this properly. Too much is at stake.”
Social media played a prominent role in the cases in Calgary. During a peace bond hearing for a 17-year-old arrested in June, the court heard the teen used TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat to post videos, including one of himself saying to “kill all (gay people)” at an LGBTQ+ protest and another depicting a synagogue being blown up.
Twenty-year-old Zakarya Hussein, who pleaded guilty earlier this month to one terrorism charge, admitted in court that he had shared recruitment videos for the Islamic State group on TikTok and posted on Snapchat that his mission would begin during Pride Month.
Hussein is awaiting sentencing.
Jon Mitzmacher, head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School, said he received only a handful of queries from concerned parents following the news Saturday of the Ottawa youth’s arrest.
“I was expecting many more emails from parents,” he said. “I don’t know if people have become numb to this at this point.”
He said there has been heightened anxiety in his school community since the Oct. 7 attacks and security protocols have been increased, and he said his school and his students are safe.
The school received a bomb threat in October, though it was later proved to not be a true threat, Mitzmacher said.
Mitzmacher said one of the most distressing results of the incidents is a feeling in the Jewish community that they are alone. He said the most heartfelt thing anyone can do to help is to reach out and show support, however you can.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 17, 2023.
Print this page
- 2023: The year we played with artificial intelligence – and weren’t sure what to do about it
- Climate change could be avenue for adversaries to harm Canada, spy service warns