Calgary mom who lost son Damian Clairmont to jihadists raising money for program to undo brainwashing

Calgary Sun/October 26, 2014

By Michael Platt

If nothing else, she wants them to know they are not alone.

Perhaps more than anything else, that emotion overwhelmed Christianne Boudreau when she learned her son, an ordinary kid from Calgary, was in Syria fighting alongside radical jihadists.

There was fear, grief and panic — but most of all, there was the sense of having nowhere to turn, and no one to ask for help.

For Canadian parents, that isolation is hopefully over.

“I’m hoping this gives them an outlet where they can reach out, so they are not alone,” says Boudreau.

“This will be a place where there is someone to help them, someone to lead them though the next steps, and even a place they can go to find out if they should worry, or be concerned.”

Since her 22-year-old son Damian Clairmont was killed fighting for ISIS, Boudreau has done more than any other Canadian to pursue a non-punitive strategy for radicalized youth in this country.

This past weekend, Boudreau launched a website to support families impacted by groups like the Islamic State, which preys on troubled young Westerners, turning them into extremists who use religion as an excuse for rape, murder and terrorism.

Called Hayat Canada Family Support, the organization is modelled on similar groups in Europe, and specifically German-based Hayat, which has had success as a counselling service for radical young Muslims and their families.

Hayat means life in Arabic, and its philosophy is to teach families how to react when a loved one turns extreme — and rather than confrontation and anger, patience, understanding and advice are often the key.

It sounds like coddling when many would prefer to see such radicals thrown in jail, but Germany has based Hayat on years of experience with neo-Nazi groups, which also prey on impressionable young men looking for a cause.

While it will turn to police when necessary, Hayat mainly serves as a mediation point between parents, children and other important role models like fellow Muslims — and the success rate has led countries like Britain to establish their own Hayat hotlines, with government support and funding.

But not in Canada, at least not yet.

“I’m a mom, I take care of a house, I have a job, so I do this when I can,” says Boudreau.

“You’d think the government might want to help, because that’s what has happened in other countries. But not here.”

Boudreau’s website — — has been built on the time the Calgary real estate agent can spare for it, and it includes links to a donation page where it’s hoped $250,000 can be raised.

That money will establish a hotline, and fund training by the German experts. Until then, Boudreau says she has an agreement with the German Hayat program to provide expertise.

“I have a handful of people right now who want to do the training,” says Boudreau.

The idea stemmed from the death of her son, and the total failure to find anyone in this country who’d had a similar experience.

Instead, Boudreau found Dominique Bons, a mother in France who established a support network after her 30-year-old son Nicolas died fighting for the same radicals.

Comparing notes, the two moms found little that would explain their sons’ mutual attraction to extremism — and that lack of warning is something Boudreau has repeatedly heard as she’s spoken with mothers from around the world.

Certainly that was the case for those close to Collin and Gregory Gordon, two Calgary brothers who converted to Islam and are now overseas serving with ISIS, with Collin posting to Facebook as recently as this month.

“He had a great future, and he just gave it up,” said Erin Williams, who counted Collin as a close friend.

“We used to go to clubs, we used to talk fashion, and he was a really smart guy — I was so baffled why he’d do that.”

Williams says she now watches the news, dreading the day when her friend will be reported killed like so many other Canadians who have gone over.

She says a support group might have helped him, though he was converted and gone so quickly, she wonders if there would have been time.

“I think it’s a good idea, but this happened so fast,” she said. “It might have been too late for him.”

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