Summary Report of the Meeting of the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security

June 14-16, 2019
Halifax, Nova Scotia

Members of the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security (CCRS) and government officials met in Halifax for the most recent meeting. Officials from Public Safety, the Department of Justice, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Canadian Heritage and the Privy Council Office attended the meeting.

The week-end began with a site visit to the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia, where three RCMP officers spoke about the history of the local area and the context behind the challenges faced between law enforcement and local communities. Members learned about the successful approaches undertaken by the RCMP to build trust and relationships in the community, including increased community involvement.

At the working dinner, members received updates on the initiatives they were consulted on at the previous meeting, along with the status of various pieces of tabled legislation. The dinner also provided an opportunity to share information and take stock of the contributions that the current Roundtable membership has made over the course of a little more than two years.

The formal meeting began with an update on work related to inclusive approaches to national security, building on the recommendations members had provided in response to the tasking from the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the Honourable Ralph Goodale, to explore the issue of inclusive language in national security.

The overall consensus was that it is important to identify the audience for the report, as one report will not be best suited to all stakeholders. Members agreed that Canadians should be kept apprised of the issues and trends related to extremism, but that the report should be provided in plain everyday language, be short and concise, and be factual, without delving into the complicated historical context that has led to past acts. The goal of the report should not be to dispel wrongful assumptions however should remain neutral enough so as not to increase negative perceptions of certain cultural/ethnic/religious groups. There was also meaningful discussion on the importance of the report focusing on existing initiatives put in place by the Government to keep communities safe. Members' views are that the report should include information on how to identify potential threats as well as the evolving means by which terrorist acts are likely to be committed in Canada. To that point, members also suggested having a section of the report focus on what communities and citizens can do to help reduce potential threats and what to do after an act has occurred. Lastly, there was agreement that the Public Terrorist Threat Report should remain an annual publication, with increased promotion of the report so that more Canadians are aware of its existence and use it as a source of public awareness and understanding.

CCRS members were also updated on the status of the Public Safety-led work on inclusive and bias-sensitive approaches to national security. The views of the Roundtable were sought on a proposed engagement plan for 2019 with diverse Canadians regarding the Government of Canada's inclusive and bias-sensitive approaches in National Security. Members recommended consulting with community organizations who work closely with youth, new comers to Canada and those whose voices are less often canvassed. The Roundtable also suggested using innovative and non-traditional approaches to consult with stakeholders to ensure a variety of perspectives are captured. Several innovative approaches were suggested such as: 1) An essay contest to capture the vulnerable population's perspective thereby encouraging more people to participate in the consultation while also offering individuals who are uncomfortable sharing their story in person, a way to contribute; 2) Encourage self-reflection on the use of vocabulary and underline potentially offensive language, seeking community perspectives on how to increase awareness around the impact of words and ideas for encouraging change; and 3) When engaging in a more traditional way, the Roundtable suggested sharing people's story back with them to ensure that the information captured is an accurate reflection of what participants wanted to share.

The Roundtable also had the opportunity to learn how CSIS is utilizing a GBA+ framework to strive to ensure its policies, tools and procedures better reflect diversity and inclusion within operational and corporate processes.

The meeting continued with a discussion on far-right violent extremism in both the offline and online space. The presentation provided an overview of the trends researchers are seeing in the far-right movement in Canada. The current environment has given legitimacy to these types of groups, allowing for them to become more mainstream and enter the intellectual realm as opposed to only being perceived as a violent entity. Of great interest to members, questions arose around the demographics of the movement, along with how the groups are funded and promoted, particularly online.

Members were then presented with an overview of the National Emergency Management Strategy and were consulted on the approach for sharing information with the public, specifically with those whose first language is not necessarily English or French. The Roundtable agreed that cell phone alerts were very effective and suggested the addition of image icons to provide a visual description of alerts. Members also recommended using ethic media as a way to provide information to those who don't necessarily follow mainstream media.

The Roundtable received a presentation on the key findings of the cross-country engagement on Canada's federal anti-racism strategy. Members are of the opinion that the anti-racism approach should have increased resources allocated to it and that a whole-of-government approach would be beneficial when working on the strategy. The Roundtable voiced how most immigrants have limited knowledge about job opportunities and can be deterred from filling out the application for grants, as the forms can be hard to understand and complicated to fill out. Members also feel that investigations of human rights complaints should be reviewed by an external and neutral third party. The Roundtable's main focus however, was on the need for increased public awareness and education on cultural/religious customs.

The meeting concluded with an overview of the plan to defend Canadian democracy and further strengthen the electoral system against threats.  Members were pleased with the measures being put in place to protect the 2019 General Election. Questions from members centered on their interest in the means by which nefarious groups attempt to infiltrate peoples' day-to-day activities, particularly in the online realm. The idea that groups seek to destabilize societies by eroding trust in the democratic institutions and creating discord between Canadians, was a central component of the discussion. Members noted that it is not only foreign actors that seek to create instability, but that these groups exist in the domestic context as well.

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