The Canadian Department of Public Safety has designated a slew of several far-right organizations as terror groups.
In a press briefing the department said they were listing the Atomwaffen Division and the Base, two neo-Nazi terror groups founded in the U.S. and under an FBI crackdown; the well-known Proud Boys; and the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), a St. Petersburg-based organization that has provided paramilitary training for neo-Nazis from around the world.
The goverment also listed several Islamist extremist groups: Ansar Dine, Front de Libération du Macina, and Jama’at Nusrat Al-Islam Wal-Muslimin, as well as the ISIS-affiliated groups Islamic State-Bangladesh and Islamic State-East Asia, as new additions to the terror designation list. The designations allow for the government to lay terrorism charges to people connected to the group more easily, and prevent those within the group from fundraising, selling merchandise, and owning property on the group’s behalf.
“Based on their actions and ideologies, each group meets the legal threshold for listing as set out in the Criminal Code, which requires reasonable grounds to believe that an entity has knowingly participated in or facilitated a terrorist activity, or has knowingly acted on behalf of, at the direction of, or in association with such an entity,” read a press release.
Senior officials in the department, who spoke to journalists on the condition they were unnamed, described the Proud Boys as “a neo-fascist organization that engages in political violence” and asserted they “espouse misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, and/or white supremacist ideologies and associate with white supremacist groups.”
(Disclosure: Gavin McInnes, a Canadian, was a co-founder of VICE Media. He left the company in 2008 and has had no involvement since then. He founded the Proud Boys organization in 2016.)
“The Proud Boys consists of semi-autonomous chapters located in the United States (U.S.), Canada, and internationally,” the release reads. “The group and its members have openly encouraged, planned, and conducted violent activities against those they perceive to be opposed to their ideology and political beliefs.”
Importantly, the government is designating not just the groups themselves, but offshoots. The National Socialist Order, for example, is designated alongside AWD.
In response to the latest designation the leader and founder of the Base, who is based in Russia and is suspected of Kremlin ties, was defiant and claimed the group is still active in Canada. “The Base is not a terrorist organization or a neo-Nazi group,” Rinaldo Nazzaro, a former Pentagon contractor, said. “It is a survivalism and self-defense network for nationalists. The Base operates within the law of every jurisdiction where it is active including Canada.”
Nazzaro previously denied he had any links to the Russian government.
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While the Canadian government previously labelled two other white supremacist organizations with ties to political violence as terror groups, the latest news comes on the heels of the insurrection on Capitol Hill in Washington and its ties to extremist groups like the Proud Boys, which was cause for debate in Canadian parliament.
Jagmeet Singh, the leader of Canada’s third-largest federal party, the New Democratic Party, put forward a motion in Parliament demanding that the Proud Boys—founded by a Canadian and with a large contingent in the country—be designated a terror group following the actions of January 6th. The motion was unbinding, which means it was symbolic and the government did not need to act on it. A group is not designated as a terror group as a result of a vote but instead listed via cabinet from a recommendation from the Minister of Public Safety, who typically works off guidance from intelligence officials. The groups listing on the watch list will be reconsidered after five years.
The move to mark this many white supremacist groups as designated terrorist organizations all at once, is unprecedented for a government. In May 2020, the U.S. nearly designated Atomwaffen Division a terrorist organization, but the group disbanded and instead RIM became only the first white supremacist group in the country’s history to ever be designated a terrorist organization.
Canada only recently began listing far-right groups on its terror watch list in 2019, starting with the international neo-Nazi groups Blood and Honour and Combat 18.
Stephanie Carvin, a former intelligence analyst with Canada’s spy agency turned academic at Carleton University, said she believed the “government has been investigating these groups since well before the 6th. It’s really been months of work,” she told VICE World News. Carvin, a veteran of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) had experience tracking groups like al-Qaeda, but believes the emergence of the far right as a terror threat has caught the attention of her former employer.
“I strongly suspect the January 6 insurrection probably accelerated the desire to list these groups,” she said. “But speaking with various anti-hate groups and individuals that study these phenomena, they’ve been consulted since last summer on how these groups may be listed.
“I think this looks like the government is whip-snap responding to this but this is actually a process long in the making.”
During a press briefing, senior officials stressed the use of the term “ideologically motivated violent extremism” (IMVE) rather than left-or right-wing extremism. They added that CSIS has “shifted their resources to better combat IMVE actors.” Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, said in a statement that the listings are “an important step in our effort to combat violent extremism in all forms.”
“Canadians expect their Government to keep them safe and to keep pace with evolving threats and global trends, such as the growing threat of ideologically motivated violent extremism,” said Blair. “The Government of Canada will continue to take appropriate actions to counter terrorist threats to Canada, its citizens and its interests around the world.”
One difficulty with designating groups like Atomwaffen Division and the Base is that they tend to rise quickly and self-immolate, or are broken up by law enforcement. While both the Base and Atomwaffen still exist in some form and have members, they are markedly smaller than they were at their height several years ago. Many previous members have moved onto new groups that are growing.
With Proud Boys, criticisms of the designations are more extreme. Critics have said that the designation could hurt left-leaning groups and people of colour as much as, if not more than, the group. One expert told VICE they could see right-leaning politicians designating Indegenous protestors blocking rail lines during the Wetʼsuwetʼen crisis last year as terrorists.
Amarnath Amarasingam, an assistant professor at the school of religion at Queen’s University who researches terrorism, told VICE World News that he does think “it's about time that some of these groups are listed.”
“They have operated for a long time out in the open—recruiting, fundraising, mobilizing—and have grown as threats as a result, and their brazenness is only on the rise,” said Amarasingam. “It will give the government the tools it needs to investigate these groups as national security threats.”