Canada is facing a growing threat from right-wing white supremacists and neo-Nazis: minister

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Canada’s minister for public safety says right-wing, white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups are an increasing concern and threat to Canadians.

Ralph Goodale said the groups promote hate, which manifests itself in violent anti-Semitism or in other crimes.

WATCH: Nov. 12, 2018 — Toronto police launch hate crime investigation after 4 Jewish teens allegedly targeted






“The van attack along Yonge Street in Toronto earlier last year had those kinds of roots,” Goodale said Tuesday after a speech on national security at the University of Regina.

Ten people died in April 2018 when Alek Minassian allegedly drove a rental van down the busy stretch, mowing down pedestrians.

Goodale also used the example of six people murdered inside a Quebec City mosque in 2017 because they were at prayer.

READ MORE: In Canada, Jews face more hate crimes, while Muslims face more violent ones — StatCan

He said the suspects were inspired by what they saw on the internet.

“They may have behaved themselves as singular individuals doing very evil deeds but they were inspired by something and largely that relates back to what they saw on the internet,” Goodale said.

Goodale said Daesh and al-Qaida aren’t the only sources of dangerous, extremist violence and it can come from any type of fanaticism.

WATCH: April 24, 2018 — 2017 an all-time high for anti-Semitic acts in Canada






He said the federal government is working with internet providers to eliminate the problem and so far there’s been “pretty decent co-operation.”

Internet providers have an obligation to make sure they don’t provide a platform for spreading fear and hate, Goodale said.

“They don’t want to have a reputation that they are purveyors of that kind of nasty stuff,” he said. “But they have to do better.”

READ MORE: Trial begins for 2 men charged with using free newspaper to promote hate against Jewish community, women

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Right-wing extremism not welcome in Canadian Armed Forces — but ‘clearly, it’s in here,’ says top soldier

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In a three-part series, the Star looks at the rise of white nationalist and right-wing extremist groups in Canada, and what authorities are doing to identify and suppress these threats. This is part 2. To read the first part, click here.

OTTAWA—Canada’s top soldier frankly acknowledges there are members within the Canadian Armed Forces who harbour right-wing extremist and white supremacist beliefs.

It’s obvious Gen. Jonathan Vance has given the issue much thought.

“Clearly it’s in here,” Vance told the Star.

Over a 40-minute interview at National Defence Headquarters, Vance repeatedly stressed that nobody holding extremist beliefs is welcome in the Canadian Forces.

“(But) what a lot of these folks don’t realize, (is) they may be able to find a couple of confreres among the tens of thousands of people that we have, but it’s not the norm.”

As the Star reported Sunday, there has been an alarming rise of right-wing extremist and white supremacist groups active within Canada in recent years.

In the United States, research into the far right suggests extremist groups have made a concerted effort to infiltrate police forces and the military to gain access to training, experience and potentially even weapons.

Less research has been done on whether extremists have made similar attempts in Canada. But as far as Vance is concerned, it’s simply a fact.

He compared the presence of far-right extremists in the Forces to the military’s recent experience dealing with sexual harassment and assault. As a traditionally male-dominated institution, the Forces were just not sensitive enough to the scourge of sexual harassment within its ranks, Vance said.

Could that mean that, as a traditionally white institution, the forces aren’t sensitive enough to the issue of white supremacy?

“It’s not just possible; it’s probable,” Vance said.

“It is entirely possible that we are not sufficiently aware of the indicators or the insidious, corrosive effect of having extremism in our ranks. I think we’re academically aware, like technically aware. But from a practical basis, how do you know for sure?”

Over the past two years, the Canadian Forces have had to respond to three high-profile incidents of soldiers or sailors associated with far-right groups.

On Canada Day in 2017, five Canadian Forces members — members of the “Proud Boys” movement who proudly proclaim their “Western chauvinism” — disrupted an Indigenous protest in Halifax.

This year, Vice Canada reported an army reservist in Nova Scotia was a member of a much more dangerous group. Vice alleged that Brandon Cameron, a 25-year old former soldier, was associated with the Atomwaffen Division — an American neo-Nazi terrorist group tied to an attempted bombing, numerous hate crimes, and the killing of a 19-year-old Jewish man in Florida. Cameron denied involvement with the group.

The Quebec-based anti-immigration and anti-Islam group La Meute counts a number of current and former Forces personnel among its ranks. In December, a CBC/Radio-Canada investigation counted 70 Forces members in a members-only La Meute Facebook group.

Vance is categorical: there is no place for far-right extremism in the Canadian Armed Forces.

One of the five members who participated in the Proud Boys protest has left military service. The four others were subject to unspecified professional discipline and received a permanent reprimand on their records. Vance suggested they may be on their way out as well.

But the general also referred to blowback he’s heard about how the brass handled the Proud Boys situation.

“When I say cultural change (is needed) … I’ve seen comments about how we’re standing up to the Proud Boys and so on, as if … we’re somehow lesser military because of our posture,” Vance said.

“That’s horses–t. Good militaries aren’t racist.”

Vance said his gut sense is that when it comes to right-wing extremists within the Forces, there could be “small groups or individuals,” but not significant numbers.

“I haven’t proven that hypothesis,” Vance admitted. “And maybe some time we should.”

The question of whether or not far-right extremists or white supremacists have infiltrated Canadian policing is more difficult to answer — both because of the scale of the question and, unlike the Canadian Forces, the absence of publicly reported incidents.

A 2015 report by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, published by the Intercept, suggested that a wide range of extremist and white supremacist groups have developed “active links” to law enforcement officers. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service refused to say whether it has conducted a similar counterintelligence assessment on Canadian law enforcement agencies.

CSIS has faced allegations of racism within its own ranks. In 2017, the Star reported the spy agency had settled a multimillion-dollar lawsuit from five officers and analysts who claimed years of anti-gay, anti-Muslim or anti-Black discrimination.

Former RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson also admitted in 2015 that the Mounties had racists within their ranks.

“I understand there are racists in my police force,” Paulson told a meeting of the Assembly of First Nations. “I don’t want them to be in my police force.”

The new RCMP commissioner, Brenda Lucki, told the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network this year that “racism will not be tolerated” within the force, after the network reported on anti-Indigenous posts in a closed RCMP members Facebook group.

On the broader question of far-right extremist infiltration, RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia told the Star that it’s a concern.

“Our screening would pick up on that, unless someone has never spoken to anyone about it and they kept it to (themselves),” Malizia said.

“But I can’t recall a case right now (within the RCMP). I’ve not seen it. But it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened elsewhere.

“There’s no doubt about it that there’s no place for those types of individuals in a police service or any type of law enforcement agency,” Malizia added.

Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier

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Rise of right-wing extremists presents new challenge for Canadian law enforcement agencies

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OTTAWA—There has been a dramatic rise in the number of white nationalist and right-wing extremist groups operating in Canada over the last three years, causing police and security agencies to reassess the threat the movement poses.

But more worrying, for those who keep tabs on Canada’s extreme right fringe, is that alliances seem to be building between groups as the far-right makes gains in the United States and Europe. At the same time, it’s not clear that Canada’s law-enforcement and security agencies are mounting a similarly concerted response.

Storm Alliance demonstrators walk to the legislature during a demonstration where anti-facists and extreme right groups faced off in Quebec City last year.
Storm Alliance demonstrators walk to the legislature during a demonstration where anti-facists and extreme right groups faced off in Quebec City last year.  (Jacques Boissinot / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Between 2015 and 2018, researcher Barbara Perry said she’s observed a 20 to 25 per cent jump in the number of right-wing extremist groups active in Canada. Based on Perry’s previous estimates, that would mean anywhere between 100 to 125 active right-wing extremist groups operating from coast to coast.

Perry, who researches hate crimes and the far right at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, attributed the growth to far-right causes and ideas infiltrating mainstream politics in Canada and other Western countries.

“You’ve got these enabling forces that really promote those sorts of, I don’t want to call them values, but sentiments, attitudes,” Perry said.

“It’s not as anomalous as we like to think. If we look at public opinion polling over the last couple of decades, there’s always a substantial proportion that displays some hostility or distrust or dislike … about immigration, about Muslims, about LGBTQ communities, those others that are frequently targeted.

“But we don’t see it as that, right? We don’t see it as an extension of that kind of value system. We see it as something out of the ordinary, out of character for Canadians,” Perry added.

Aside from the overall growth in numbers and activity — both online and offline — Perry has observed attempts at bridge-building between far-right groups. A rally last July on Parliament Hill, for instance, attempted to bring together some of the bigger names in Canada’s far-right: La Meute, Soldiers of Odin, the III%, Storm Alliance, and the Proud Boys.

The rally could not be considered a success. Fewer than 100 people gathered on Parliament Hill on the Saturday of the rally, which didn’t even merit a counter protest from anti-fascists.

But such alliances between Canadian right-wing extremist groups would be a departure from the movement’s at-times violent and fractious past. In fact, it may be misleading to call it a “movement” at all — the far-right in Canada has traditionally been characterized by infighting, splinter groups, and disorganization, with groups and individuals largely left to the fringes of society.

If that’s changing, as experts claim, it presents a new challenge for Canadian law enforcement and intelligence agencies that have only recently begun to reassess the threat Canadian right-wing extremism poses.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Assistant Commissioner James Malizia, left, says far-right groups in Canada have become more emboldened in recent years, as waves of populism have rolled over the United States and Europe.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Assistant Commissioner James Malizia, left, says far-right groups in Canada have become more emboldened in recent years, as waves of populism have rolled over the United States and Europe.  (PATRICK DOYLE/The Canadian PRess file photo)

Far-right more ‘emboldened’: RCMP

The term “right-wing extremism” covers a broad range of ideologies, individuals and groups in Canada. But what little scholarship exists on the groups offers some common themes: nationalism, often driven by racism or xenophobia; a perception that the government is illegitimate or holds no authority over the movement’s adherents; a desire to preserve an imagined “heritage” or “homeland.”

RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia told the Star that far-right groups in Canada have become more emboldened in recent years, as waves of populism have rolled over the United States and Europe.

Malizia, the assistant commissioner for federal policing, stressed the difference between criminal investigations of hate speech or harassment, for instance, and those in the “national security space.” Malizia said far-right groups account for the majority of the RCMP’s criminal investigations into hate crimes, but not the majority of the forces’ national security investigations.

“We’ve seen certainly in the hate space, we’ve seen groups become more emboldened,” Malizia said in an August interview.

“I think one of the challenges is being able to define what exactly the groups or individuals are espousing, whether that is escalating from hate speech to … a path where people are starting to think about heading toward violence.”

Research suggests that hate often does turn into action.

Between 1980 and 2014, there have been more than 120 incidents involving right-wing extremist groups in Canada, according to Perry and co-author Ryan Scrivens’s 2015 research. The “incidents” range from drug offences to attempted assassinations, firebombings and attacks.

That’s compared to seven Jihadist-inspired incidents over the same period, according to Perry and Scrivens’s accounting.

A similar ratio was reported in the United States. According to the Anti-Defamation League’s Centre on Extremism, right-wing extremists and white nationalists were responsible for 59 per cent of all extremist-related fatalities last year. The number of killings at the hands of white supremacists more than doubled compared to 2016, the report noted.

From the fringes to mainstream

Researchers also warn that extremist groups are infiltrating mainstream institutions, particularly law enforcement and military.

In 2015, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation warned that white supremacists and other domestic extremists had infiltrated U.S. police departments and other law enforcement agencies. The FBI’s report, obtained and published by The Intercept, noted that “militia extremists, white supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists often have identified active links to law enforcement officers.”

Researchers have warned a similar dynamic might exist in Canada, with far-right groups joining law enforcement or the Canadian Forces to gain access to training and weaponry.

The Star requested an interview with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in July. That interview request was declined, as was a followup request sent in September. The Star sent a detailed list of questions to the spy agency, including whether or not it has conducted a threat assessment of the far-right infiltrating Canadian law enforcement.

The agency did not directly address the question.

“I cannot go into specifics regarding how or at what level CSIS resources investigations and threats,” wrote Tahera Mufti, a spokesperson for the agency.

According to a report from the spy agency’s watchdog released earlier this year, CSIS abandoned an ongoing investigation into Canada’s far-right in 2016. According to the agency, the far-right no longer constituted a national security threat — instead, it was a “public order threat” best left to individual police forces.

Perry disagrees with that determination.

“Look at the example of Justin Bourque, killing RCMP officers … If that isn’t a threat to national security … If attacking community members (in the 2017 Québec mosque shooting), killing six people because of their faith is not a threat to national security, to the extent that it ruptures our values, it ruptures our sense of who we are, it ruptures our sense of identity?” Perry said.

“For me that’s a national security risk, as well.”

Unlike in some European countries, Canada’s extreme right has failed to find a comfortable home within traditional federal political parties.

Even Maxime Bernier, whose new People’s Party, which has focused on criticizing “extreme multiculturalism” and immigration, explicitly said xenophobia has no place in his political venture. At least for now, the far right seems to remain largely recognized as toxic to mainstream electoral politics.

An evolving response for an evolving threat?

As evidence of the increasing number and coordination of extreme right-wing groups in Canada mounts, it remains difficult to determine the extent to which there is any concerted national response from police and security agencies.

CSIS reopened its investigation into Canada’s far right after Alexandre Bissonnette killed six Muslim men worshipping in their Quebec City mosque. But the agency has provided little explanation why it considers right-wing extremism part of its mandate now, when it didn’t consider the phenomenon a national security issue in 2016.

Mufti, the agency’s spokesperson, said CSIS is now working “extensively” with the RCMP and local law enforcement “to investigate the threat posed by right-wing extremism as it falls under the CSIS mandate.”

While the RCMP and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) provide some national coordination on terrorism and extremist violence issues, investigations into right-wing extremism are largely left to a patchwork of individual local police forces and hate crime units.

For Bernie Farber, who has been chronicling and combating Canadian hate groups for more than three decades, federal agencies’ slow realization of the threat right-wing extremists pose is frustratingly predictable. Farber, who now leads the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said when the hate group Heritage Front was active in the 1980s and 1990s, police initially dismissed the threat.

“Nothing ever changes, right?” Farber said.

“We used to hear the same thing from the Toronto police, the RCMP, the OPP and CSIS, that the threat isn’t coming from the far right … What troubles me the most is that I just don’t understand how we don’t learn from our own past experiences. We know how dangerous these people can be. And to pooh-pooh it and say this is not an issue for authorities is at best wilful blindness.”

Malizia said CACP has been encouraging smaller communities, as well as territorial and provincial governments, to develop concrete plans to address a sudden attack.

“It just won’t happen in major centres,” Malizia said.

“We know that from terrorism, we know that from any type of extreme ideology that is violent, that it can happen anywhere.”

But Malizia acknowledged that the public conversation around right-wing extremism is very different from other types of terrorism and crime.

“Is it the media reporting that way? Is it a perception? Could we be doing a better job at bringing clarity to the issue? I think we all probably have a role to play in that,” Malizia said.

“Why don’t we talk about this?” asked Peter Singer, a political scientist and strategist at the New America think tank, which researches security and extremism.

“One reason we avoid talking about it is to avoid appearing too partisan, a desire to be even-handed. But there’s an irony that, in trying to appear unbiased, we actually show bias in not talking about it.”

Singer, the author of a new book on the “weaponization” of social media, pointed to traditional media’s search for false balance in reporting on the Charlottesville rally in 2017.

“We had open, outright white supremacists, nationalists, neo-Nazis, the horrible imagery of marching with torches. But then, more importantly, the killing of a young woman not by (anti-fascists) but a young man who was a white nationalist,” Singer said.

“Afterwards in the United States, major U.S. newspapers ran more op-eds condemning the counter-protesters … than those who had just committed the crime of the killing … It’s a strange thing.”

Part of the problem in speaking about extreme-right violence as a symptom of a larger issue, Malizia said, is that right-wing extremism is not seen as a coherent movement.

Seemingly disparate attacks — like Justin Bourque’s killing of three Mounties in Moncton in 2014, or Alexandre Bissonette’s slaying of six worshippers at the Centre culturelle Islamique due Québec in 2017, or the Toronto van rampage that killed 10 people earlier this year — are not connected to the larger discussion of far-right extremism in Canada.

“The violence tends to be spontaneous and opportunistic, and difficult to detect,” Malizia said.

“When we look at those, it’s difficult sometimes because there may not be that clear trigger that allows us to then prevent. … Those that are closest to the individuals are usually best placed to notice those changes and to flag them.”

Perry told the Star that there has been a “dramatic” change in the willingness for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to discuss right-wing extremism, but she has seen little in terms of plans to address it.

As the movement evolves, the question remains: is the status quo sufficient?

In the coming days, the Star will examine the question from three different angles: how right-wing extremism is finding a foothold in Canada’s military, how different police forces address the growing threat of right-wing extremism, and how the movement is organizing online — and what might be done about it.

Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier

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