Canadian politicians have voted unanimously to push the government to declare the Proud Boys a terrorist organization.
The Monday vote passed unanimously in the House of Commons and calls on the government to “use all available tools to address the proliferation of white supremacists and hate groups, starting with the immediate designating of Proud Boys as a terrorist entity.”
Despite the vote being characterized as government action online, the motion is unbinding, meaning it was symbolic and the Liberal government doesn’t necessarily 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 motion was brought forward by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh after the Proud Boys featured prominently in the insurrection at Capitol Hill, where rioters seized buildings and appeared to want to take hostages. Five were killed during the riot, including one Capitol Hill police officer.
(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.)
“Our motion calling on the Liberal govt to designate Proud Boys as a Terrorist Org has passed! But, Justin Trudeau has a habit of breaking his promises. Sadly, we can’t trust him to follow through,” tweeted Singh Monday while linking out to a petition with the same demand.
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. 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.
For Stephanie Carvin, a former CSIS analyst turned academic at Carleton University and host of the Intrepid Podcast, the vote may be coming from a good place but is misguided.
“It’s good that our politicians are paying attention to this issue of far-right violence,” she told VICE World News. “The concern that I have is that a terrorism listing has very severe consequences and shouldn’t be subject to the whims of politicians and a popularity vote. There is a process in place.”
Many have criticized the push to declare the Proud Boys a terror group could hurt people of colour and groups like Antifa and Black Lives Matter as much, if not more, than white supremacists. Carvin brings up the example of Indigenous land defenders blocking rail lines during the Wetʼsuwetʼen crisis last year and how several right-wing politicians wanted them to be declared terrorists.
“If we have a change of government, it’s entirely possible we could see a vote that sought to pressure public safety to list pipeline protesters or Indigenous protesters as terrorists because they were peacefully protesting but causing an inconvenience,” said Carvin.
Amarnath Amarasingam, an assistant professor at the school of religion at Queen’s University who researches terrorism, previously told VICE World News that designating the Proud Boys as terrorists could hurt people of colour.
“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.
Others have been more critical about the politicization of the process.
“This is totally inappropriate and a dangerous precedent,” tweeted Leah West, a lecturer in national security law and counterterrorism. “The process for listing entities should be based on evidence of a group meeting a legal threshold, not the whims of popular opinion. This move risks turning an (already imperfect) legal process into political theatre.”
Despite it being a non-binding motion, Carvin thinks the group will eventually be designated a terrorist entity alongside other far-right groups connected to violence, such as Atomwaffen or the Order of Nine Angles.
“It will not just be the Proud Boys,” Carvin said. “I strongly expect it’s going to be a number of far-right groups that are going to be listed.”
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told CTV in an interview before the vote that the government is “mindful of ideologically motivated violent extremists, including groups like the Proud Boys.”
“They are white supremacists, anti-Semitics, Islamophobic, misogynist groups. They’re all hateful; they’re all dangerous,” Blair said. “We’re working very diligently to ensure that where the evidence is available, where we have the intelligence, that we’ll deal appropriately with those organizations.”
With files from Manisha Krishnan.
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