Canada has added the far-right Proud Boys organisation to its list of “terrorist entities”, following pressure from lawmakers to take a harder line against far-right extremism after the deadly riot at the United States Capitol last month.
In a news conference on Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the federal government added 13 groups to the “terrorist” list, including the Proud Boys, the Atomwaffen Division, The Base and the Russian Imperial Movement.
“Recent events have made Canadians much more aware of the serious threat posed by violent extremist groups. These groups are unfortunately active in Canada and around the world. Their violent actions and rhetoric are fuelled by white supremacy, anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and misogyny,” Blair told reporters.
“The threat of ideologically motivated extremism has been identified as the most significant threat to domestic security in Canada.”
Canada can impose penalties on people and groups who deal with a listed entity, can strip listed groups of charitable status, and can deny entry into the country of anyone found to be associated with a listed entity.
The announcement comes after a symbolic, non-binding resolution was passed unanimously in the Canadian parliament at the end of January demanding the federal government declare the Proud Boys a “terrorist” organisation.
“It’s now on Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Govt to do the right thing and follow through on the unanimous will of Parliament. I hope he does, millions of Canadians do too,” Jagmeet Singh, head of the opposition New Democratic Party, tweeted at the time.
Thanks @RexChapman ✊🏾
Yes, our motion passed yesterday. But, the work isn't done.
It's now on Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Govt to do the right thing and follow through on the unanimous will of Parliament.
I hope he does, millions of Canadians do too. https://t.co/aBLLlsjq0e
— Jagmeet Singh (@theJagmeetSingh) January 26, 2021
The Proud Boys, which was founded by a Canadian and has chapters in Canada and the US, among other countries, describes itself as a “Western chauvinist” organisation.
It is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks far-right and white supremacist groups.
The SPLC describes The Base as a white nationalist hate group “made up of small, terrorist cells” that “believes society should be pushed to collapse so a white ethnostate can arise out of the ruins” and says Atomwaffen Division is a neo-Nazi group.
The Russian Imperial movement is a far-right, white supremacist group based in Russia that was added to the US’s “terrorist organization” list last year.
Under Canadian regulations, the government can add groups to the “terrorist entities” list if they determine those organisations have carried out, attempted, participated in or facilitated “terrorist activity”, or acted on behalf of an entity that did any of those things.
Blair also said groups affiliated with ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda were listed on Wednesday.
Contentious ‘anti-terrorism’ tool
The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), a national advocacy group, welcomed the government’s decision.
“We thank the government for listing these white supremacist groups,” the group’s CEO, Mustafa Farooq, said in a statement. NCCM has repeatedly called on Ottawa to fight and dismantle white supremacist groups in Canada.
“When we called for a bipartisan national action to dismantle white supremacy groups, we believed that this day would come. We are pleased to see common sense prevail, with the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP supporting the need to dismantle white supremacist groups,” Farooq said.
Canadian media first reported last month that Canada was mulling whether to designate the Proud Boys.
In an email to Al Jazeera on January 11, Mary-Liz Power, a spokeswoman for Blair, said Canadian “national security and law enforcement agencies are very actively engaged in monitoring the activities” of far-right groups.
“Terrorist designations are not political exercises. They involve a legal process requiring evidence and intelligence. Such listings send a strong message that Canada will not tolerate such acts of violence,” Power said.
But civil liberty and other groups have questioned whether using “terrorism” laws that have disproportionately harmed communities of colour in Canada is the best way to tackle far-right violence and extremism.
Hasan Alam, a board member of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, said white supremacist groups have always posed the largest domestic security threat in Canada, but the US Capitol riot prompted recent calls for far-right groups to be classified as “terrorist” organisations.
“My concern is that by invoking laws and systems and terms such as ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’, which have historically and continue to mainly target racialised communities, namely Indigenous, Muslims, Sikh, Black communities … we’re only going to end up in the long run harming the very communities that have been the targets of groups such as the Proud Boys,” Alam said in a recent video posted on social media.
Listing white supremacist groups as terrorist entities in Canada is not going to end white supremacy. It will invoke national security and counter-terrorism systems that will end up harming the very communities that have been the target of groups like the Proud Boys. #CdnPoli pic.twitter.com/SxEf4teRLF
— BC Civil Liberties Association (@bccla) January 28, 2021
Shree Paradkar, a race and gender columnist at The Toronto Star, Canada’s largest-circulation newspaper, made a similar argument shortly after the Capitol insurrection, questioning whether applying “anti-terrorism” laws that disproportionately harm racialised people is the solution.
“We can’t claim to seek a world of dignified equality and actively seek to expand oppressive policies that will surely boomerang,” she wrote.