MONTREAL — The Quebec government announced a series of broad measures to fight violent extremism in the province Wednesday, including major changes to the province’s human rights commission system and the creation of a Quebec-specific hate speech law.
Public Security Minister Lise Theriault and Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil detailed a 59-point plan aimed at preventing, detecting and acting against those either considering or on the verge of committing acts of ideological violence.
The so-called “action plan” to fight violent extremism includes a police squad to monitor social media platforms and an anti-radicalization centre based in Montreal.
The provincial government also tabled proposed legislation that would give Quebec’s human rights commission the ability to launch its own investigations against people it suspects of committing hate speech and inciting violence.
The bill seeks to create Quebec-specific hate speech laws outside the Criminal Code, with anyone found guilty facing a hearing before the human rights tribunal and a fine of up to $10,000.
The commission enforces Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
The bill would also allow the government to remove all or part of public funding from schools if employees “tolerate” hate speech inciting violence.
The action plan and the new bill come as the province aims to address a radicalization issue in its own backyard, with many youth having left or attempting to leave in recent months to join militant Islamic extremist groups abroad.
The Liberal government has also been under pressure to act since a Quebec man used a car to kill a soldier in a terror act just south of Montreal last year.
“Our plan seeks to prevent violent acts by people who have become radicalized, such as the ones we witnessed last fall and moreover, to stop young people from leaving the country to join extremist groups,” Theriault said.
The plan includes training for teachers and social workers on how to detect and deal with radicalized individuals and better co-ordination between provincial ministries and police.
A police squad will be created to monitor social media platforms to look out for those trying to recruit.
There are also plans to forge ahead with a $2 million “anti-radicalization centre” in Montreal, the first of its kind in North America, according to Mayor Denis Coderre.
Coderre said the aim of the centre is to offer counselling and psychological services to people who have become radicalized or who have been groomed and recruited to commit violent acts in Quebec and elsewhere. It will also deal with other issues like street gangs and anti-Semitism, for example.
The province also announced the creation of tiplines where the public can provide anonymous tips about anyone they suspect of being radicalized.
Both Weil and Coderre said the plan is to fight what they called a “delicate issue,” but not to target any one particular group or religion.
Some Muslim community mebmers in Quebec expressed concerns that the anti-radicalization centre and the hotline would target Muslims.
Samer Majzoub of the Canadian Islamic Forum called the action plan and the proposed legislation “political.”
“It targets the Muslim community,” Majzoub said. “This is the impression of everyone who I spoke with today.”
Sufi Imam Omar Kone of the Montreal-based Haqqani Foundation said he agreed with the government.
“I don’t think the Muslim community is unfairly targeted,” he said. “The problems of radicalization among the youth are many, but we are dealing with an Islamic problem and we cannot in the name of global fairness ignore that we have an issue.”
Haroun Bouazzi, with the Montreal-based association of Muslims and Arabs for a secular Quebec, said he agrees with much of the action plan with regards to social cohesion and for increased training of teachers and social workers.
What is lacking, he said, is more money and details about how the government will prevent “racial and religious profiling in the provincial police and Montreal police.”
Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press