The government of Canada will provide funding for a research team seeking to learn more about Canadian far-right extremism.
In a press release on Wednesday, Public Safety Canada announced it give researchers at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology $366,985 over three years to study the movement. The research will be led by Dr. Barbara Perry with Dr. Ryan Scrivens of Michigan State University and Dr. David Hoffman of the University of New Brunswick. For years, the three have been leading the way in researching the far-right in Canada.
In 2015, Perry and Scrivens produced a much-cited survey outlining the far-right ecosystem in Canada, a project that will be expanded with this funding. The research team has announced it will conduct “interviews with law enforcement, community anti-hate activists, and former and current extremists” in order to further understand the movement and growth of far-right extremism in Canada. They will also partner with the UK-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) to “conduct innovative analysis of online content and media coverage, designed to inform local responses to hate speech and hate crime.”The far-right has changed significantly since the 2015 study, Perry told VICE in an interview. The groups have grown both in numbers and in boldness, she said.
Since the initial study we’ve seen the swift rise of anti-Muslim groups like the Three Percent, the Soldiers of Odin, La Meute, and their splinter groups; the emergence of emboldened white supremacists from the shadows; and the organization of far-right terror cell entities like Atomwaffen on Canadian soil. In total, Perry said while they counted 150 groups in their initial study, they’re looking at almost 300 now. Perry called the growth a “a disturbing trend that creates a hostile, frightening environment for some communities.”
In the US, since September 11, far-right extremists have killed more people than any other domestic terrorist groups—with the ADL reporting they were responsible for 71 percent of deaths caused by extremism. Since the mid-2010s that number has been increasing dramatically.
Perry sees evidence of that trend in Canada as well. In the 2015 report her team identified “over 120 incidences of violence connected to the far-right” compared to about eight instances of “Islamic-inspired violence” over the same time period.
“In the last four of five years, there have been 19 homicides connected to the far-right,” Perry told VICE. “Justin Borque killed three RCMP officers in 2014, 2017 Bissonnette shot and killed six Muslim men in prayer in Quebec City, and, more recently, Minassian killed ten people in the van attack in Toronto.”
“All of this violence was animated by some strain of the far-right."
The group will be producing multiple reports as they move along in their research. The ISD will produce a yearly analysis of the state of Canada’s far-right online and the research team will put out a corresponding one on offline activity. With a budget about seven times larger than the one provided for the 2015 study, the group is hoping to provide far more comprehensive look at the far-right than has previously been possible. They want to look not just at the size, organization, and beliefs of the groups, but also what makes them tick, how they recruit, and so forth.
In the end the government and scholars hope to be able to outline the “beliefs, motivations, activities, and connections that characterize right-wing extremism in Canada” with the aim of finding vulnerabilities that can be used to weaken the movement, according to Perry.
"There were a number of features inherent in the groups that render them vulnerable to dissolution and short lives,” said Perry. “That was things like lack of ideological coherence within groups, leaderships struggles—pissing contests, if you will—within and across groups."
"So what are the fissures within the groups that weaken them and make them vulnerable for intervention that will destabilize the group."
In the past, Canada has more or less turned a blind eye to the rising threat of far-right extremism, instead focusing almost solely on the threat posed by Islamist terrorism both domestically and abroad. Karen McCrimmon, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, said in a press release that is not the case anymore.
“The most important job of a government is to keep its citizens safe. Daesh and Al-Qaeda are not the only sources of dangerous extremist violence,” said McCrimmon. “A growing concern is right-wing extremism, such as white supremacists and neo-Nazis who fuel violent anti-Semitism.”
“It is critical that we understand the factors that are leading towards hate and intolerance, including how right-wing extremism can inspire the murder of six Canadian citizens near Quebec City, and how it can feed misogynistic violence, such as the brutal van attack along Yonge Street in Toronto.”
Sign up for the VICE Canada Newsletter to get the best of VICE Canada delivered to your inbox.
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.