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This is the second in a new series of blog entries exploring the work of emerging graduate students examining Canada’s armed forces and defence and security issues. In “A Path for Canada’s P/CVE Efforts,” University of Alberta Master’s student and Senior Researcher with the community-led Organization for the Prevention of Violence, David Jones looks at the challenges involved in tackling the threat of violent extremism and examines the value of new approaches.


Five current Canadian Armed Forces operations have some counter-terrorism dimension to them, from contributing to the degradation of Daesh to preventing the financing of terrorism via counter-piracy operations. Wherever Canadian troops are deployed next, improving our ability to marshal a whole-of-government response to violent extremism will be crucial to the mission’s success.


At the 2017 Peacekeeping Ministerial Conference in Vancouver, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan noted that, “nations face threats from violent extremists which require a comprehensive response that encompasses military, political, humanitarian, and development efforts”.[1] This reflects the growing recognition that solely kinetic responses to the problem are insufficient –and efforts to prevent or counter violent extremism’s emergence must also occur.


The Minister’s statement echoes the United Nations’ Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, which states, “countries that fail to generate high and sustainable levels of growth, to create decent jobs for their youth, to reduce poverty and unemployment…are more prone to violent extremism and tend to witness a greater number of incidents linked to violent extremism.”[2] These linkages emerge as a result of inquiry into the ‘root causes’ of conflict and greater appreciation for the socio-economic and political factors that increase the potential for large-scale violence within a state. However, as applied to conflicts or states where violent extremist groups (i.e. Daesh, Al-Qaeda (AQ), Hezbollah) are present, the efficacy of a root cause approach, in the short to medium term, is questionable.


As efforts to prevent or counter violent extremism (P/CVE) are ‘mainstreamed’ into the development and security strategies of states and international institutions like the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, donor countries must remain aware of the need to balance macro and micro-level prevention and intervention initiatives. More attention should be paid to the highly-localized mechanisms of radicalization, recruitment and involvement in violent extremist organizations as opposed to the continued search for, and solutions to, root causes. The apparent intractability of the battle against violent extremism suggests that our current approach is not making an appreciable dent in the ability of these groups to recruit and operate.


In no way should P/CVE replace necessary efforts to spur economic and social development, or efforts to promote political reform, but rather should be used as a complementary type of programming – especially as a short-term response to the emergence of violent extremist groups. Canada’s future investment in P/CVE programming should focus less on poorly-understand structural drivers of involvement, and more on indicators of behavioral radicalization within individuals and small groups.[3] Moreover, donors must be cautious of funding development projects that are simply re-branded as P/CVE, as this behavior may result in both the further securitization of aid, and ineffective programming.


Both in Canada and internationally, there are emerging models from which Canadian policymakers can draw inspiration. Multi-disciplinary teams – involving civil society and religious organizations, social workers, psychologists and in some instances, law enforcement, have emerged as a promising practice in diverse contexts. This includes projects in, Aarhus, Denmark; Beirut, Lebanon and Irbid, Jordan – as well as Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton. Additionally, in areas where psycho-social support are lacking, these teams can be partially composed of peer-based mentors – a model that was successfully employed by the STRIVE project in Kenya.[4] These teams are not only able to adapt to the unique particularities of a jurisdiction, but also to the idiosyncrasies of individuals demonstrating some degree of behavioral radicalization, allowing for a truly tailored approach to prevention. While such teams are not a panacea, and do not remove the need for structural change, they represent one of the few P/CVE programs that has demonstrated some concrete success and has the ability to have an immediate effect on localized recruiting.

[1] Department of National Defence, “Speaking Notes for The Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence – United Nations Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial Heads of Delegation Dinner.”

[2] United Nations General Assembly, “Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism,” 7.

[3] For an excellent critique of the ‘root causes’ approach, see: Horgan, “From Profiles to Pathways and Roots to Routes: Perspectives from Psychology on Radicalization into Terrorism.”

[4] Royal United Services Institute, “STRIVE Lessons Learned: Strenthening Resilience to Violence and Extremism.”



David Jones is a Masters student in International Affairs at the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs. He has significant research experience related to radicalization and terrorism. David is currently working as a research intern for Valens Global, a firm based in Washington, D.C., that specializes in conducting research and analysis on violent non-state actors. His work has focused on the global Islamic State – Al-Qai’da competition and far-right online extremism. He has published pieces related to extremism in The Globe and Mail, and the Political Science Undergraduate Review. Follow him on Twitter @Davejonesy


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