Daniel Gallant first tried to kill himself when he was 12 years old, a way to escape the trauma of being raised in a home filled with sexual and physical abuse. When that didn't work, he ran away and spent the rest of his teenage years in the care of child services in British Columbia, psychiatric wards, and in juvenile detention for theft.
At 18, Gallant was living on the harsh streets of east Vancouver, squatting in abandoned buildings and doing whatever he could to feed his addiction to alcohol and drugs.
His deep frustration with himself and everything around him played right into the hands of a group of skinheads and neo-Nazis he met one day while he was smoking a joint on Granville Street. Right away, Gallant felt like he belonged with the hodgepodge of men from the Klu Klux Klan, Heritage Front, and World Church of the Creator, all driven by the belief in a superior white race.
"They gave me an outline for who to blame for my life and for the state of the world," said Gallant in an interview.
He proved his devotion and worth to the group by assaulting at least one person everyday. His record was beating up nine people in a single day.
"The attacks were fueled by hatred for other races," recalled Gallant, who has since abandoned the movement and counsels other extremists looking to reform. "One time, I went after a black guy who I had seen at a bar with his buddy. I towered over him and we started fighting. I was kicking him and yelling racial slurs at him."
According to a new study, right-wing extremism in Canada is thriving — despite the fact that the movement is fragmented and plagued with infighting.
Over the course of three years, authors of a recent study, entitled Uneasy Alliances: A Look at the Right-Wing Extremist Movement in Canada, published in the journal Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, found at least 100 right-wing extremist groups operating in Canada, especially in Alberta, BC, and Quebec.
These extremists, who typically espouse nationalist, racist, and homophobic ideologies, have been responsible for a wide range of violent attacks dating back to the 1980s.
The 2014 murder of three federal police officers in New Brunswick, for example, was carried out by Justin Bourque, a so-called "lone wolf" who frequently posted pro-gun, anti-government messages on social media.
In 2008, a member of the Aryan Guard attacked a Japanese woman outside a restaurant in Calgary, drop-kicking her in the back of the head with his steel-toed boots, and yelling racist comments.
Police-reported hate crime incidents in Canada number in the thousands every year. In 2013, the last year for which there are statistics, police investigated more than 200 assaults motivated by hatred — of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion.
Internal documents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) released last year warned that "lone wolf" attacks from white supremacists occur more frequently than from Islamic extremists. And according to other documents, CSIS has repeatedly warned politicians of growing anti-Islam sentiment among groups in Canada, akin to the far-right movement in Europe.
"The threat from the far right in Canada is real," Ryan Scrivens, one of the new report's authors and PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University, told VICE News. "It doesn't get the same kind of attention and publicity that Islamic extremist groups get, but they have, historically, done more damage in Canada."
'You don't get those skinheads hanging out in street corners or having massive rallies. We're seeing their presence more so in organized crime, and in politics, especially municipal politics.'
While his report finds "some variability" in the targets of right-wing extremists, typically it's Muslims, Jews, people of color, such as Afro-Canadians, Asians "and South Asians especially" who bear the brunt of the violence.
"And yet we're still finding that, typically, law enforcement officials don't perceive these right-wing extremists as a threat within the country," said Scrivens. "Their presence is often overlooked."
Scrivens said this could be because the movement has morphed in recent years, as members are more active online, and are engaging in more subtle forms of activism.
"We've noticed that you don't get those skinheads hanging out in street corners or having massive rallies. We're seeing their presence more so in organized crime, and in politics, especially municipal politics," he said.
While we typically envisage members of the right-wing as "tattooed, snarling, angry White male[s]," the report found there are others who seek to make the cause more acceptable to the public by "more subtle means, in a way that makes it more palatable, more acceptable to a public sensitized by a generation of discourse of equality, multiculturalism, and diversity."
The report notes that in 2014, a number of members of the far-right ran, unsuccessfully, for political office in the Greater Toronto Area.
"It's also in the music scene. It's not as in-your-face," Scrivens continued. "A lot of skinheads in Quebec, for example, are going to these apocalyptic-style concerts or venues, where they're recruiting people."
"However, the unpredictability of violence here may make it all the more disturbing," he said. "It is difficult to assess precisely when an attack might occur, or what might motivate it. It is especially challenging, then, to counter the violence."
Gallant and Scrivens agree that current deradicalization efforts, that primarily target the Muslim community, ought to be expanded to include countering right-wing extremist ideology, especially in light of recent terror attacks in Paris and Burkina Faso, and as Canada aims to bring in 50,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of this year.
Although it's still unclear if they were driven by right-wing extremism, the recent arson attack against a mosque in Peterborough, Ontario, and a pepper spray attack against a group of newly arrived Syrian refugees in Vancouver, are raising concerns about continued backlash against Canada's immigration and resettlement efforts.
"The way the government is facilitating the development of deradicalization programs is bound to fail," Gallant said. "We need to have an honest look at the fact that the history of extremist violence in Canada has primarily been committed by the extreme far right. Until that happens, it's not going to change. And the focus on jihadists is not going to change."
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