An Overview of Modern Right-Wing Extremism in Canada

by James O. Ellis III – Project Lead for the Canadian Incident Database (CIDB) 

Right-wing extremism is a serious problem that hasn’t been taken seriously in Canada.  There has been little in the way of national level policy and policing in this area.  The Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s 2012 Domestic Threat Environment in Canada report opines: “Such ideologies are spreading in Europe and the United States, but in Canada, they still remain on the societal fringe.  The majority of individuals involved in the milieu in Canada hold strong racist and anti-immigration views, but do not overly propose serious acts of violence.”  The CSIS webpage states: “Right-wing extremism has not been as significant a problem in Canada in recent years. Those who hold such extremist views have tended to be isolated and ineffective figures.”  An Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC) Threat Assessment released in January 2017 offered little insight into domestic extremist groups and suggested that there was “no indication that right wing extremists pose a threat to migrants and in particular, recently arrived Syrian refugees.”

These assessments are completely out of touch with the reality of this threat.  According to data from the Canadian Incident Database, supremacist incidents represent the greatest extremist threat in Canada.  From 2001 to 2015, 49 supremacist-motivated incidents were perpetrated in Canada, and most occurred in Alberta, Ontario, British Columbia, and Québec.  Most incidents appear to be isolated and spontaneous assaults targeting ethnic and religious minorities, and there are several recent examples.  The first terrorist fatality in Canada since 2001 occurred September 4, 2012, when Richard Bain fired an assault rifle in a Montreal concert hall during the newly-elected premier’s victory rally, killing one stagehand.  On June 4, 2014, Justin Bourque carried out an anti-authoritarian-motivated shooting spree that killed three RCMP officers and injured two others.  Shortly after the November 13, 2015 Paris attacks, there were four separate extremist incidents targeting Muslims and Hindus that involved arson and vandalism of religious institutions and a residence, as well as assaults.  On January 29, 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette carried out a shooting rampage at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec, killing 6 and wounding another 19 people.  This attack was followed by a similar uptick in hate crimes.

Canada has been home to a collection of right-wing extremists that have been surprisingly influential in the global movements associated with white supremacy, Neo-Nazism, Identity Christianity, Creativity, skinheads, and others.  There has been significant growth in the numbers of right-wing groups and their membership, and a survey by Barbara Perry and Ryan Scrivens estimates there are up to 100 active groups in recent years.  Canada has seen the importation of groups from Europe, such as Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) and the Soldiers of Odin.  Similarly, Canada is exporting its own radical organizations, with La Meute establishing chapters in France and Belgium.  The words of Canadian extremist Paul Fromm helped motivate Dylann Roof to kill 9 people and injure another in the Charleston, South Carolina church shootings on June 17, 2015.  Canadian right-wing groups have been inspired by right-wing populist leaders elsewhere.

One such organization is La Meute, which is part of the far right constellation of groups in Québec alongside the Soldiers of Odin Québec, Atalante Quebec, Justiciers du peuple, Bloc Identitaire, Fédération des Québécois de Souche, and assorted skinhead and Neo-Nazi groups.  La Meute has begun to develop more organized chapters and infrastructure, and it revels in the idea of a Clash of Civilizations with the Islamic world, describing itself as “a citizen movement that wants to bring together those who are worried about the future of our children and our lands in the face of radical Islam which, The Shariah (sic) take precedence over all other laws.”  Though it claims over 40,000 Facebook members, its true membership is probably a fraction of that figure.  With these organizations it is not the size of the total group that is most concerning, but rather it is the individuals incubating within them that may move to violent action.

Open source reporting suggests there are also some 30,000 anti-government Freemen-on-the-Land in Canada.  The potential for violence from Canadian Freemen-on-the-Land has risen to the point that even utility operators and law societies have begun warning about personal and public safety issues.  Norman Walter Raddatz, who espoused Freemen-on-the-Land and anti-Semitic beliefs, killed Constable Daniel Woodall and wounded Sergeant Jason Harley while they were serving a warrant for failure to appear in court, firing over 50 bullets from his Edmonton home on June 8, 2015 before being killed himself.

It is time that the threat of right-wing terrorism and violent extremism is taken seriously in Canada.  Authorities are often quick to associate isolated acts of religiously inspired violence with ISIS and al Qaeda, but they continually dismiss right-wing and Islamophobic attacks as the work of disconnected lone wolves.  There are clearly communities of right-wing extremists that bear closer scrutiny, and it is unwise for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to focus almost exclusively on foreign fighters and radical Islamic groups.  Based on historically strong connections and exchanges between Canadian extremists and those abroad, it would be imprudent to presume that Canada is immune to the importation of the rising right-wing extremism in the United States and Europe.  Canada can ill afford a series of continued attacks against immigrant populations and religious and visible minorities, and we must do our part to fulfill the promise of safety and security for all Canadians.

James O. Ellis III is the Project Lead for the CIDB. A Fulbright scholar, he holds a Master’s of Letters degree in International Security Studies focused on Terrorism from the University of St Andrews.  Mr. Ellis has worked in the terrorism field for 15 years, and helped manage a 35-project, $84-million dollar research program covering information technology, scientific, and social scientific projects while at the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT) for eight years. You can follow Mr Ellis’ work at http://tsas.ca/ 

Image provided by http://tsas.ca/.

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