Countering Violent Extremism - Conversations in Northern Europe

Public Panel discussion held in the Embassy of Canada to Norway. Left to Right: Zakia Akkouh (European Wergeland Center), Sergeant Paul Dunn (Calgary Police Service), Superintendent Tammy Pozzobon (Calgary Police Service), Canadian Ambassador to Norway Artur Wilczynski, Tore Bjøro (Police University College, Norway), Dr, Vivek Venkatesh (Concordia University).

Superintendent Tammy Pozzobon (Calgary Police Service) weighs on preventative measures for countering violent extremism.

Dr. Vivek Venkatesh provides a lecture on his initiative, Someone Canada, a platform to sensitize youth, educators, and the broader public to patterns of online hate with the goal of building resilience against hate speech and radicalization.

The Ambassador of Canada to Norway Artur Wilczynski reveals an inside look in an event aimed to provide insight on how violent extremism can be stopped.

Countries around the world share the struggle of being victim to acts of violent extremism. In order for the security of peace and to combat the threat of extremism, collaboration between countries leading experts and government officials is necessary.

With the understanding that one country alone cannot solve the problems of violent extremism, the Embassies of Canada in Northern Europe invited diverse participants to share their insights during a number of activities on countering violent extremism. The events were coordinated between Canadian embassies in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Finland as various counter-terrorism experts toured the Nordic countries.

In each city, the Canadian guests took part in multilateral morning meetings with local government interlocutors and non-governmental organizations. In the afternoon, the Canadian delegation presented their innovative projects at either a public or closed-door seminar. Over the course of the week, Calgary Police and Prof. Venkatesh met with over 200 radicalization experts in the region and learned about the varying approaches to the issue across countries. Canada’s Ambassador to Norway Artur Wilczynski reveals a deeper look into the discussions that took place in Oslo:

The attacks against Paris on November 13th were a horrible reminder of the threat of violent extremism.  In a single night, a few determined individuals wreaked unspeakable havoc that killed scores and wounded hundreds.  There are few words that describe the shock and revulsion millions felt when they heard the news and saw the images of the attacks.  The targets were not the iconic landmarks of the city - but places where Parisians go to live life to the fullest - a concert hall, a stadium, bars and restaurants.  As someone who knows and loves Paris - this beacon of culture, freedom and humanity - the events of that night felt like a punch in the gut.

I spent a good part of my career combatting terrorism and violent extremism. My experience at Public Safety Canada and as Director General of Security and Intelligence at Global Affairs Canada, made me acutely aware of the terrorist threat and the complexity of working to defeat it.  Confronting violent extremism requires us to work internationally.  No nation can work alone.  No nation has all the answers.  We need to learn from each other's experiences to deal with the ever changing nature of the phenomenon.

Canada and Norway both face challenges of radicalisation leading to violent extremism.  We have seen our citizens travel abroad to engage in violence and we have sadly both suffered attacks at home.  

On the night of November 17th, Norwegian Prime Minister Solberg, the Mayor of Oslo and French Ambassador Jean-Marc Rives spoke to a large crowd in front of Oslo City Hall. Their messages focused on the victims of the Paris attacks and the importance of solidarity to confront terrorism and hatred.  They spoke eloquently of the need to build bridges and support one another in the face of brutality.  They reminded us that we are not powerless to confront the challenge.

Earlier that day, I met Norwegian Minister of Justice and Public Security Anders Anundsen to discuss the importance of working together to confront violent extremism. I shared with the Minister the importance that Canada places on finding an appropriate balance between security and liberty.  How do we ensure that we have a society where we have the right security mechanisms to keep our population safe, while preserving the rights and freedoms that are the foundation of our just society?  

These are key questions that continue to be asked by policy makers in Canada and Norway.  The ability to exchange on these issues is fundamental to finding a balance on this incredibly complex issue.  Finding balance is difficult because factors change over time. That is why ongoing discussion with friends and allies like Norway is key.

On November 16th, the Embassy of Canada to Norway hosted a number of activities aimed at advancing the discussion between our countries on countering violent extremism.  In the morning, the Embassy held a roundtable discussion where Sergeant Dunn and Superintendent Pozzobon from the Calgary Police Service's (CPS) ReDirect Program met with representatives of Norwegian think tanks and research institutions to compare information about our respective preventative approaches. The ReDirect Program is an important part of the CPS' community policing approach.  It is an education, awareness and prevention program aimed at stopping the radicalization of young people.  It works in partnership with its operational and community partners to establish multidisciplinary solutions.  It addresses all forms of violent extremism.

In parallel to the meetings with the Calgary Police, the Embassy organized a roundtable for Professor Vivek Venkatesh that included the European Wergeland Centre and other Norwegian partners.  Participants discussed how Canada and Norway could work together to combat online hate speech, develop digital literacy among youth and help educators create space for constructive dialogue in their classrooms.  Work is underway to more fully develop these partnerships.

Exchanges were also held between Canadian and Norwegian police and security officials to get a better understanding of each other’s approaches to countering violent extremism.  Norway highlighted its Action Plan Against Radicalization and Violent Extremism.

The Embassy also hosted a public panel discussion attended by over 100 people, featuring members of the Calgary Police Service and Professor Venkatesh from Concordia University.  Professor Venkatesh highlighted the Someone (Social Media EducatiOn Every Day) Program. The initiative, supported by the Government of Canada's Kanishka Program, was created to sensitize youth, educators, and the broader public - both within and outside of Canada - to patterns of online hate with the goal of building resilience against hate speech and radicalization. The multinational and interdisciplinary team of researchers and practitioners in the SOMEONE initiative are developing an online portal of curricula and multimedia materials designed to counter hate speech by developing digital literacy and critical thinking skills.

Joined by Norwegian experts Zakia Akkouh from the European Wergelands Centre and Tore Bjørgo from the Norwegian Police University College, the panel shared views on the role of education, law enforcement, social services and multidisciplinary approaches in both countries to address violent extremism.  The dialogue between participants and a very engaged audience demonstrated the interest that exists in Norway and Canada to share experiences in a pragmatic way.  We can help each other understand the complexities of violent extremism and build creative approaches to deal with it.

This panel discussion hosted at Litteraturhuset in Oslo will be part of a series of engagements between Canada and Norway that the Embassy of Canada will host.  Our goal is to help build knowledge and cooperation on countering violent extremism.  Follow the Embassy's Facebook page or Twitter feed to get the latest information on our plans and activities.  I always welcome your feedback and comments on our activities.