When RCMP Sgt. Derek McDonald walked into the downtown Toronto mosque, he was friendly and warm, smiling and shaking hands enthusiastically.
It’s a style he’s deployed more than 50 times in similar visits across Canada.
But as open and warm as he appeared that night at the Toronto Islamic Centre mosque, he also had a very serious goal behind his actions: fostering community ties with Muslims that may one day help the national police force thwart a terror attack.
"If something comes up that is a police matter, they’re going to go to the imam and say 'Who's that RCMP guy that came to talk last year?’ It will come back, I know it," McDonald told CBC's Ioanna Roumeliotis.How does he know it? Couldn't that merely be wishful thinking on his part?
McDonald’s efforts are part of the RCMP’s Muslim Outreach program, an initiative it quietly launched two years ago in a bid to encourage dialogue that could act as an early warning system for terror plots.
“This is not a public relations tool,” said Supt. Doug Best, who heads the RCMP’s national security operations in Ontario. “These types of investigations, we’ll probably get only one chance and if we miss it, the results can be catastrophic.”Indeed. In fact had some imam not snitched to authorities about "the April 2013 plot to derail a Via passenger train in the Toronto-Niagara corridor," who knows what might have happened? However, there's no reason to believe that RCMP "outreach" had anything to do with the imam's actions. And, anyway, there is much to prevent others from doing the same:
At the mosque, McDonald insisted to the crowd that the RCMP are opening up a dialogue and not profiling the Muslim community. “We’re not here tonight to recruit informants or spy on people,” he said. “There are no strong-arm tactics.”
However, some Muslims in attendance worried this is a form of profiling.
“We’re definitely concerned about the security,” said Hosam Helal, a mosque leader. But “a lot of Muslims will also be concerned that sometimes security figures will exaggerate threats.”
Within the Muslim community, there’s also a fear of being ostracized. Even today, months after the plot was revealed, the imam who reported the Via rail threat remains anonymous."Outreach" is swell. I wouldn't want to have to rely on it, though, to keep us infidels safe.