On February 3, 2021, the Canadian Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness added 13 organizations to its List of Terrorist Entities, ranging from regional affiliates of the Islamic extremist groups Al Qaeda and ISIS to the U.S.-based hate groups Atomwaffen Division (AWD) and the Proud Boys. Prior to this latest announcement, the list contained 60 violent extremist organizations from around the world, the vast majority associated with Islamic extremism.
The Newly-Listed Entities
The designation of nine Islamic terror organizations is less striking than that of four new white supremacist groups, tripling the number of violent neo-Nazi organizations, as defined by the Canadian government, to six. The most prominent of these four groups are Atomwaffen Division and the Proud boys, who have come into the public consciousness in recent years due to their participation in deadly events like the 2017 Charlottesville Unite the Right Rally and the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
The Atomwaffen Division is based in the United States but has expanded into Canada, the U.K., and elsewhere, since its founding in 2013. Like many neo-Nazi organizations, AWD aims to bring about the collapse of society through direct, violent action against minority groups and government officials. To this end, AWD maintains a paramilitary training regimen at so-called “hate camps.” In 2019, before the organization as a whole was classified as a terrorist entity, Canada banned one of its leaders from entering the country.
The Proud Boys are a loose, all-male organization, self-described as “Western chauvinists,” with chapters operating across the U.S. as well as in Canada. They have frequently targeted Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and committed acts of violence against BLM supporters. In the episode that seems to have directly prompted the Canadian government’s latest action, organized Proud Boys militias played a leading and pre-planned role in the Capitol insurrection.
Consequences of the Listing
This move is intended by the Canadian Government to deter terrorist activity in Canada by freezing any financial assets held by these groups in Canada and punishing any individual or organization that provides them financial or material support.
In order to list an organization as a terrorist entity, the Canadian Criminal Code mandates a rigorous investigation by both the Public Safety Department and the Department of Justice to ensure that the group meets the necessary legal thresholds to constitute a threat to Canadians’ safety, namely, that the group “has knowingly participated in or facilitated a terrorist activity.”
Canadian counterterrorism expert Sarah Teich, in a CBC interview, described the decision as “a real, meaningful, concrete move.” She added, “It makes it much, much harder for these groups to operate in any meaningful way in Canada. Canadians can no longer interact with them in any substantial way, and if they do, they could face a criminal offence.” Even buying Proud Boys merchandise could result in up to ten years in prison as it would amount to financial support of terrorism.
Underlining the seriousness of the Canadian Government’s resolve, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair stated, “There’s been an escalation … Countering this group has become an important priority for the government of Canada.” In the announcement, Blair also invoked the tangible consequences of right-wing extremism in Canada in the form of the 2017 Quebec City mosque attack and the 2018 Toronto van attack.
The most telling aspect of the recent announcement is the fact that several homegrown U.S. hate groups are now considered on a par with foreign organizations such as the Taliban and Hezbollah in terms of the real threat they pose to Canadians. Their inclusion in the announcement is plainly tied to their role in the January 6 Capitol insurrection and their escalating pattern of violent action over the last several years.
This decision comes from one of the U.S.’s closest allies and signals a long and difficult road ahead for the Biden administration’s efforts to fight domestic extremism while reassuring American allies and reestablishing the country’s place as the leading global democracy and force against authoritarianism.