Right wing extremism has always existed in Canada, but it does feel like we are going through a moment.
The extremists, which typically espouse and focus on racist, homophobic, anti-statist, and nationalistic ideologies have, for decades, been responsible for some of the more violent attacks on Canadian soil. Recently, a spur of anti-Islamic groups like the Soldiers of Odin and III% Canada popping up across the country have grabbed people's attention.
You can't be blamed if you thought that the phenomena skipped the nice, polite country that is Canada. Thanks to a mixture of issues causing us to ignore the issue, there hasn't been many counter initiatives to or academic research on right wing extremism in the Great White North.
Dr. Barbara Perry and Ryan Scrivens—two of Canada's leading academics in the field of right wing extremism—are attempting to change that. The duo just published their second paper in a three part series examining the issue in Canada—the first paper outlined the current state of the far-right extremist exo-system in which they found over 100 groups operating in the country. Ryan Scrivens told VICE that with the trilogy of papers, the duo wanted to fill the void of knowledge that existed in regards to right-wing extremism.
"My colleague, Dr. Barbara Perry who is a hate crime expert, started noticing many moons ago that there was a real gap in our understanding about the hate groups in a Canadian context," Scrivens told VICE.
"The focus, especially after 9/11, was on violent Islamist terrorists instead of the far-right. We just don't focus our energy on domestic right-wing extremism."
The paper published in the Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice is entitled "Resisting the Right: Countering Right-Wing Extremism in Canada" and it lays out a multidimensional plan for Canada to tackle the growing problem. To complete it, the two conducted interviews with "Canadian law enforcement officials, community organizations, and right-wing activists, paired with analyses of open source intelligence."
Through this study, the duo found that right-wing extremism in Canada is a multi-faceted issue and therefore counter-extremist initiatives must be multidimensional as well. They urge "the necessity of multi-agency efforts coordinated around acknowledging and responding to the radical right" which, put into layman's term, is essentially advocating for law enforcement, activists, victims, and advocacy groups to work together.
"It's a very simple [plan], what we were finding is that communities that were doing a good job in responding to or resisting the far right were those who were communicating with each other," Scrivens said. "What we're really pushing for is getting the community involved in the discussion paired with law enforcement officials."
As stated above, there currently exists no concerted and multi-agency plan to combat right-wing extremism in Canada. While there has been a recent focus on the groups—thanks in part to Scrivens and Perry—and likewise advancements like the Center for Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence in Montreal and the Liberal government's Office of the Community Outreach and Counter-Radicalization Coordinator which has stated it will also focus on right-wing extremism—Canada still has still a long way to go.
"I think we, for lack of a better term, have to pull our head out of the sand and realize that there is something going on within Canada," said Scrivens. "There is nothing really that solid other than the centre in Montreal."
The plan—a multi-pronged approach that consisting of seven points—is as followed:
- Diverting people from getting involved
- Responding to and countering hate speech
- Ending violent behaviour and fragmenting movements
- Managing threats to public order
- Supporting and empowering victims
- Raising awareness of the problem
- Pushing public agencies to act
Within each of these points the duo lays out strategies and initiatives. The strategies include monitoring of the growth and movement of the groups, "challenging public officials to take a public stance" against it, convincing "the broader community that it constitutes a potential threat," empowering the victims, and encouraging communication with local activists and advocacy groups among other strategies.
Three more key components regard the education of youth in regards to these groups, pulling "softer targets"—individuals just on the cusp of being radicalized—back from the brink, and for law enforcement to start targeting the leadership of these groups.
"These groups don't have very long shelf lives at all. Most individuals leading these movement, while there are outliers, are very charismatic and might be tough, strong or be able to beat people up in a bar," said Scrivens. "They just don't have strategic ability to sustain a movement."
The duo offers up the southern Alberta town of Lethbridge as a leading example of a community using this approach with success. When researching the paper, Scrivens said, they thought due to its nasty history of racism and proximity to the Bible Belt in the United States, it would be a location whose soil would be ripe for a right-wing extremist movement to grow. However, they were proven wrong, when they got to the town they discovered a community resisting right-wing mobilization because of players that included "law enforcement, city officials, and community activists."
"This was a small city that had managed to overcome that history, face racism head on, and run it out of town," reads the report. "The community was able to meet attempts by a [right wing extremist] group to recruit with a wall of resistance."
Like the majority of solutions offered to complex problems this isn't something that will work overnight, Scrivens said. In the end though, he added, one of the most important aspects is just simple awareness—the recognition by law enforcement and key players that this is an issue that exists within the pleasant fold of quiet and polite Canada.
"I think the big takeaway from our report is that we need to essentially acknowledge that these people exist," said Scrivens. "That's why we started this research essentially, if we want to talk about terrorism and extremism, we cannot only talk about violent Islamists, we also need to talk about violent right individuals."
"We need to realize that these people walk around our communities, they don't have KKK robes on or are wearing neo-nazi T-shirts. They just aren't operating like that anymore…they're flying under the radar."
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