January 25, 2018 | National Post

A fast way to keep extremist influence out of our schools

The Trudeau government says countering radicalization is a foundational component of Canada’s national security policy. Indeed, it has established the new Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence. The government should therefore be pleased with the recent introduction of Bill C-371, the Prevention of Radicalization through Foreign Funding Act, which is an excellent complement to its efforts in this area.

Sponsored by Conservative MP Tony Clement, C-371 is slated for a second reading vote in February. Members of Parliament should allow the bill to be referred to committee where it would receive careful study. While the legislation could benefit from several amendments, its intent and essence deserve parliamentary support.

C-371 would enable Canada to establish a list of foreign states that meet specific criteria, such as promoting egregious forms of religious intolerance or engaging in activities that support radicalization. Once that list is in place, all Canadian religious, cultural and educational institutions would be prohibited from accepting donations from those foreign governments.

This restriction would also extend to receiving money from individuals and entities linked to those states (such as the spouse of the foreign state’s leader or an organization controlled by the foreign state). An exception clause would render Canada’s liberal democratic allies, including the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Israel, immune from being listed.

Canadian educational, religious and cultural institutions should not be subject to the pernicious influence of foreign states and individuals that embrace and promote extremist ideologies. By denying these entities ongoing access to Canada’s open and multicultural society, Canadians will be better protected from interference and indoctrination by foreign extremists. Conversely, so long as the patrons of extremist ideologies have an unfettered ability to invest billions of dollars in institutions in Canada and the West in general, the threat of extremism and radicalization will only grow.

Which countries should be listed under the legislation? There are a number of worthy candidates, but Saudi Arabia and Iran would likely make the cut.

A front-page New York Times exposé from 2016 flatly stated, “Saudi Arabia’s export of the rigid, bigoted, patriarchal, fundamentalist strain of Islam known as Wahhabism has fuelled global extremism and contributed to terrorism.” It referenced both Hillary Clinton deploring Saudi Arabia’s support for “radical schools and mosques around the world that have set too many young people on a path towards extremism,” and Donald Trump calling the Saudis “the world’s biggest funders of terrorism.”

The concerns they raised were more explicitly articulated by Farah Pandith, the first-ever special representative to Muslim communities at the U.S. Department of State. Over the course of 2009-2014, she toured 80 countries in her official capacity and concluded that the Saudi influence was destroying tolerant Islamic traditions. “In each place I visited,” she said, “the Wahhabi influence was an insidious presence, changing the local sense of identity; displacing historic, culturally vibrant forms of Islamic practice; and pulling along individuals who were either paid to follow their rules or who became on their own custodians of the Wahhabi world view. Funding all this was Saudi money, which paid for things like the textbooks, mosques, TV stations and the training of Imams.”

While Saudi Arabia promotes Sunni extremism, the Iranian regime works diligently to indoctrinate and radicalize existing Shia communities across the world. In Canada, Tehran has tried to build networks sympathetic to its Khomeinist creed by funding religious institutions, schools and cultural centres. Two of those Iranian cultural centres, located in Ottawa and Toronto, were actually seized in 2014 and the proceeds distributed to victims of various terrorist attacks in a lawsuit against Iran for its sponsorship of terrorism.

Iran had maintained it was not connected to the centres. However, the court found that when the Iranian Cultural Centre in Ottawa had undergone renovation, the applicant identified on the building permit was the “Islamic Republic of Iran.” And the Toronto-based Centre for Iranian Studies, ostensibly a non-government organization supporting those interested in Iranian culture, was found to have been purchased by a company whose sole director was a former cultural attaché at the Iranian embassy in Ottawa. This attaché was also a member of a powerful Iranian family closely connected to high-ranking regime officials.

Bill C-371 will not decisively solve the problem of radicalization. Nevertheless, it is an important tool that can help block outside influences that wish to persuade Canadians to adopt extremist ideologies leading to radicalization and violence.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote in his 2014 memoir Common Ground, “My idea of freedom is that we should protect the rights of people to believe what their conscience dictates, but fight equally hard to protect people from having the beliefs of others imposed upon them.” His caucus now has the ability to affirm this vision by voting in favour of C-371 at second reading.

Sheryl Saperia is the director of policy for Canada at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow her on Twitter @sherylsap.

Follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.