A threat from within: The political wings of extremism in Canada
Public Safety Canada identified right-wing extremism as a “growing concern” in its 2017 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada. This was the first time it had explicitly cited this as a threat to Canadians. In its previous reports, there was only minor mention.
As right-wing extremism grabs headlines in Europe and the United States, Canada has seen the proliferation of like-minded groups and, in some cases, franchises of what exists elsewhere in the world.
When we think of terrorism it is easy to point to groups like Daesh or al-Qaeda, or recall tragic events like 9/11 and the 2015 Paris Terror Attacks; but often overlooked are domestic right-wing groups with the means to commit attacks within our borders.
While right-wing groups may not be recognized as terrorist entities by the Canadian government, nor been responsible for attacks, many are known to hold nativist and intolerant views. In some cases, members of these groups have overtly denigrated Muslims and the Canadian government. Their modus operandi often involves building online communities, which is achieved by sharing xenophobic images, propagating fear and reinforcing what they perceive are “patriotically Canadian” values.
Right-wing extremism, while not a new phenomenon in Canada, encompasses a wide range of ideological focuses that have been under a microscope over the past year. White supremacists, sovereign citizens, nationalist groups, neo-Nazis, and members of the Canadian Patriot Movement have long espoused their ideologies and posed unique challenges to law enforcement. Although it is difficult at this time to conclusively determine if spillover from the U.S. election has led to an increase in hate crimes within Canada, it can be noted that the narrative around the subject of “hate” has intensified.
As Canadians just observed the first anniversary of the shooting at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec, we are reminded that such events — which have not yet been definitively classified as terrorism by law enforcement — immediately exacerbate the already contentious rhetoric that gained momentum globally during the 2016 presidential campaign.
It is important to note that with the increased focus on right-wing extremism comes an equal obligation to focus on left-wing groups that have mobilized in response to the right. While it is easy to become fixated on the polarizing ideologies of the right, it is also imperative to remember the long history of dangerous tactics rooted in far-left ideals, which are complex, secretive and have historically perceived any type of law enforcement as an abusive power.
A major concern and recent trend has been the focused recruitment efforts by both the left and right on university campuses, with both ends of the spectrum taking an interest in contentious issues that have erupted specifically around issues of free speech. Thankfully, we have not seen Berkley- or Charlottesville-calibre incidents here, but these international events are followed and discussed by Canadians, resulting in increasingly divisive rhetoric between the left and right, and growing solidarity within each extreme.
Proactive measures are key. Training for frontline officers to recognize symbols, personalities and the triggering effect of global events should be routinely updated and evaluated. The importance of investigative methods — like extracting open-source information — cannot be overlooked, as these are imperative to improving situational awareness, prevention and responding to the ongoing threat posed by both the right and left.
Open sources like Facebook, Twitter and online forums are a few of the platforms being used to introduce and spread divisive ideologies; law enforcement must be aware of the potential for violence and the incitement of hatred with these platforms, especially in the era of “fake news.”
Enough incidents of radical violence have proven that there indeed is no single pathway to violent extremism. However, an examination of the online climate of indoctrination will certainly assist with providing insight into what causes violent behaviour by both political extremes.
The monitoring of open sources is not for the faint of heart; it requires constant observation and is best complemented with knowledge of crime trends and geo-political dynamics. Most importantly, it requires collaboration between civilian and sworn members, and amongst police services and other law enforcement agencies.
* The views expressed in this article are the authors’ only and do not express those of Wilfrid Laurier University, iBRABO or HCEIT.
Kristen Little is an open source analyst with the Hate Crime and Extremism Investigative Team (HCEIT), a network of 15 police services in Ontario.
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