In a recent and lengthy article in the National Post entitled "Who is Awso Peshdary? The case against an alleged Ottawa extremist who police say recruited for ISIL" the article describes the way Mr. Peshdary allegedly recruited for ISIS in Ottawa. What is interesting to see is the number of charities that have some sort of unwitting involvement with Mr. Peshdary and that he used their programs or services to further his efforts. This article is helpful in challenging misconceptions about charities and terrorism. The biggest misconception that people have about charities and terrorism is that a charity would only be useful for fundraising for a terrorist enterprise. There are so many ways that terrorists can misuse charities that I will discuss below. The second biggest misconception about charities and terrorism is that those who control the charity' are knowingly involved in supporting the terrorism. All that a charity needs to be is unaware of the activities for them to take place.
The article mentions the use of the alleged ISIS recruiter using a student club at a community college to meet, recruit people and plan activities. He also worked "as a basketball coach for low-income youth" at a community health centre and a "counsellor for at-risk youth" at a residential services agency. These last two charities were apparently great places to meet vulnerable individuals who can be manipulated into supporting terrorist activities.
The article notes "investigators had watched him [Peshdary] as he worked, his education in social work enabling him to work directly with segments of the community the RCMP later identified as being among the most vulnerable to radicalization."
About the only thing mentioned in the article that was not a charity was a paintball center!
The good news is that there is a lot than can be done to prevent radicalization in Canada and prevent the misuse of charity resources.
The Charity Commission of England and Wales document How might a charity be abused for terrorist purposes? discusses a number of ways in which a charity and its resources/programs can be used by those supporting terrorism.
CRA Checklist for charities on avoiding terrorist abuse provides Canadian charities with a number of suggestions as to how to avoid involvement with supporting terrorism. A number of these suggestions would be quite relevant to the issues at hand in the National Post article.
I have also written an article Canadian Charities and Terrorism: Preventing Abuse of Your Favourite Canadian Charity which might provide some useful advice to Canadian charities.
First don't let people slip between the cracks so easily who have mental health issues, drug abuse issues or suffer from isolation. Second, charities need to be more aware of those who participate in their programs, use their resources etc. One of the biggest weaknesses in the charity sector is the poor financial management in much of the sector. It should not be such a surprise when government and foundations invest almost nothing in financial management training that charities are weak on those fronts. On the bright side if financial management in the sector improves it will help charities to be more effective on so many other fronts.
Do you require legal advice with respect to Canadian or Ontario non-profits or charities?
Mark Blumberg is a partner at the law firm of Blumberg Segal LLP in Toronto and works almost exclusively in the areas of non-profit and charity law.