Experts Say Designating Proud Boys as Terrorists in Canada Could Backfire

Following the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the Canadian government described the group as violent “white supremacists”. But experts say expanding the war on terror could hurt BIPOC groups.
Manisha Krishnan
Toronto, CA
January 12, 2021, 2:56pm
Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys
Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys, stands outside Harry's bar during a protest on December 12, 2020 in Washington, DC. Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

While designating the Proud Boys as terrorists may feel good to many Canadians, experts say the move could cause civil liberties issues and even backlash against social justice organizations. 

“Expanding the war on terror isn’t always a good idea,” said Amarnath Amarasingam, an assistant professor at the school of religion at Queen’s University who researches terrorism. 

“If we’re critical of terrorism as a tool by law enforcement, the way it’s been used against the Muslim community, against other communities of colour in terms of no-fly lists and arrests, the impetus for that shouldn’t be let’s expand it to white people also,” he said, pointing to conversations from President Donald Trump’s administration about adding Black Lives Matter and Antifa to terrorism lists as a cautionary tale. 

The Proud Boys were part of a violent mob who launched an invasion of the U.S. Capitol building last week in support of Trump. 

(Disclosure: Gavin McInnes 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.)

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After the attack, which left five people dead, Mary-Liz Power, spokesperson for Canadian Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, told VICE World News the Proud Boys “advance misogynistic, white supremacist beliefs and glorify violence.” In 2019, she said the government added white supremacist groups Blood & Honour and Combat 18 to its terror list and will add other groups when they “meet the Criminal Code threshold.”

Blair later echoed those comments to CTV News, describing the Proud Boys as “ideologically-motivated violent extremists.” 

Amarasingam said the Capitol riots would make it easier for the government to deem the Proud Boys and other groups present terrorist organizations. 

“They’ve been responsible for all kinds of violence,” he said, noting the government’s explanation for listing Blood & Honour and Combat 18 is linked to overseas terrorist attacks.

 Doing so would serve a few purposes, Amarasingam said. It would show that Canada’s “entire national security apparatus isn’t obsessed with the Muslim community”; it would make it easier to lay a terrorism charge against someone who committed a violent act and was associated with the group; and it would prevent the Proud Boys from being able to fundraise, sell merchandise, have bank accounts, and own property as an organization. 

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But from a social justice perspective, he said he’s not sure if categorizing all violent dissent as terrorism is “good for society.”  

Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said while the Proud Boys in the U.S. could certainly qualify as a terrorist group, in Canada things are a bit more complicated. 

Balgord said the group has split into two factions here: Proud Boys Canada First, which he described as “pro-terrorism,” and the Proud Boys, whose activities of late mainly consist of “getting drunk together and shitposting.” 

Balgord said he would be wary of the Canadian government expanding its terrorism definitions to shoehorn the Proud Boys onto the list. 

“I do not want mechanisms being invented to designate new groups,” he said. “We just want to see it used on groups that clearly meet the criteria.” 

He also said any expansion of terrorism definitions could negatively affect social justice groups, including Indigenous land defenders setting up blockades to prevent pipelines. 

The Birth of the Base, Nazi Terror Group

In a press release, Fareed Khan, founder of advocacy group Canadians United Against Hate, said he wants to see the Proud Boys and other far-right organizations including the 3 Percenters, Soldiers of Odin, The Base, and La Meute designated as terrorists. 

“All we’ve heard in response is lip service by Justin Trudeau’s government. (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) has known of the danger that white supremacist groups pose to national security ever since the release of a 2015 report, but the government has not acted on that intelligence.  We want to know why,” Khan said. 

He noted that Quebec mosque shooter Alexandre Bissonnette, who murdered six people in 2017, was a “white supremacist.” 

Khan said he wants to see Canadian Trump supporters added to a terrorist watch list. 

“It's clear from what happened in Washington, D.C. last week that Trump supporters are willing to commit violence and insurrection to achieve their goals.  These Canadian ‘Trumpers’ are a potential threat to Canada’s national security.” 

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