For the first time, Canadian authorities have charged a person associated with incel ideology with terrorism.
The teenager, who cannot be named because he's a minor, allegedly killed a woman and stabbed another in a Toronto spa earlier this year. Police say that on February 24, a 17-year-old male went into Crown Spa, an erotic spa in northern Toronto, with a machete and killed 24-year-old Ashley Noell Arzaga and stabbed the spa's owner. The owner fought back and wrestled the machete away from the teen. When police arrived at the spa they found the owner and a 17-year-old male covered in blood lying in the parking lot.
Police arrested and charged the teen with first-degree murder and attempted murder. As first reported by Global News, they’ve now added “terrorist activity" to the charges. In a news release, RCMP say they found evidence shortly after the murder that indicated a possible terrorist attack.
“(The teams working on this) determined that this crime was, in fact, one in which the accused was inspired by the Ideologically Motivated Violent Extremist (IMVE) movement commonly known as INCEL (involuntary celibate),” the news release said. “As a result, federal and provincial Attorney Generals have consented to commence terrorism proceedings.”
The incel movement is made up of predominantly young men who believe their inability to have sex is because of a society stacked against them. Those in the most extreme corners of the movement blame women and advocate for violence.
The incel movement has been linked to violence in the past. Alek Minassian, the man accused of the Toronto van attack that killed 10 people and injured 16 more in 2018, was connected to the movement. Speaking to police after the van attack, Minassian said he was part of a "beta-uprising." Minassian described the movement as "angry incels such as myself who are unable to get laid."
Terrorism charges in Canada have predominantly been reserved for Islamist attacks. Canadian authorities have been widely criticized in the past for not referring to attacks associated with far-right beliefs—like Minassian or Alexandre Bissonnette who killed six Muslim men in a Quebec City mosque—as terrorism. Experts say today’s new charges may signal a willingness by authorities to prosecute other ideologies as terrorism.
“It's the first time we've had anyone within the incel community, or a related community, charged in Canada with terrorism,” said Michael Nesbitt, a law professor at the University of Calgary. “So that means that for the first time we're saying something that isn't ISIS or al-Qaeda-inspired extremism is also terrorism.”
“I think this finally sends the signal: that there's terrorism beyond al-Qaeda and the Islamic State,” said Stephanie Carvin, an assistant professor of International Relations at Carleton University and host of the Canadian national security podcast Intrepid. “This is a good step. The question is, will the courts buy it?”
Nesbitt says the way the Canadian criminal code treats terrorism is confusing. He hopes that this case moving forward will clear up some of the unknowns—like definitions of the term “ideology”—that may have stalled past prosecutions.
“It's about signalling and denouncing that this is terrorism and recognizing that different forms of ideology can rise to the level of terrorism,” said Nesbitt. “From a legal perspective, though, that does make things difficult. It means your case just got longer, more difficult, more expensive, and more facts and evidence oriented.”
Since 2018, Canada has seen at least three attacks that allegedly involve the incel ideology. There is the one in question, the van attack, and, in June of 2019, a man in Sudbury attacked a mother and her children outside a department store. The man was attempting to kill the child but stabbed the mother in the neck. The mother survived and the man was arrested and plead guilty to two charges of attempted murder. He said he committed the attacks because he was an incel, although his participation in the movement has been debated.
No matter how complicated the trail becomes the move represents a step forward, says Carvin.
“It's not just a signal to the community that 'yeah, terrorism comes from other places than al-Qaeda and ISIS,' said Carvin. “It's also a heads up to people that if you know someone who is in this movement, that there is a reason to be concerned and you need to go to the authorities.”
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