When the Canadian government listed Blood & Honour, a neo-Nazi group, and its armed branch, Combat 18, as terrorist organizations last month, it marked the first time that any extreme-right organization in Canada had been publicly named as such. The listing effectively puts Canadian extreme-right groups on notice, warning them they will no longer get a “pass” for their involvement in politically motivated violent activity or association with international groups that engage in violence.
The listing brings Canada’s Proscribed Entities list to 60 groups, the vast majority of whom remain organizations with links to al Qaeda or the Islamic State. The listing of these neo-Nazi groups is an important step because it tells Canadians that their government is taking the threat of right-wing extremism and violence seriously. Equally important, it makes clear to those drawn to extremist propaganda and ideologies that this is unacceptable in Canada, regardless of the religious or political origins of those ideologies.
The government is also being clear and unequivocal with all law enforcement and security services that violence from this neo-Nazi group constitutes terrorism, an important distinction that can activate additional analytic and investigative resources, as well as other counter-terrorism and countering-violent extremism measures.
How Do Groups Get Listed in Canada?
The listing process is a technical one that starts with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) or the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) creating a criminal or intelligence report that lays out reasonable grounds to believe that the entity to be listed has carried out or tried to carry out terrorist activity. In the case of Blood & Honour and Combat 18, the terrorist activity primarily involves politically motivated assaults and homicides. These groups have also engaged in internecine violence and targeted violence against anti-fascist opposition groups.
These reports draw on open and classified sources of information to establish the grounds for being included on the terrorist list. A short summary of the information surrounding a particular listed entity is then posted to the Public Safety Canada website of publicly listed entities, akin to the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization designation. It is important to note, though, that law enforcement and security services may have far more information at their disposal than what is written in those public summaries. But in some cases, these summaries could constitute the sum total of their knowledge or information on a group.
Determining whether the conduct of the group qualifies as a terrorist activity is, therefore, a core element of the listing process. Often the entities in question, like Boko Haram or Abu Sayyaf group, do not operate in Canada, but the conduct of the groups must meet the definition of terrorist activity as laid out in the Canadian Criminal Code. Simply being listed by a foreign government or international organization is not sufficient grounds for listing in Canada – the technical requirements in the Canadian process seek to ensure that the listing process does not become politicized.
When seeking to list an entity it is ideal, although not necessary, for the Minister of Public Safety to rely on publicly available information. Criminal convictions for crimes that meet the definition of terrorist activity that are attributable to the group are ideal. Additionally, public statements by the group describing their political, ideological or religious motivations, threatening to commit terrorist acts, or taking responsibility for acts of terrorism are often used in support of an entity’s listing.
Why Hasn’t This Happened Already?
Academics and activists have been calling on Canada to start listing domestic far-right groups for some time. But it hasn’t happened until now. There are several reasons for why this might have taken as long as it did.
For one, the listing could have been timed to address a broader threat posed by right-wing extremism in Canada writ large, and this neo-Nazi group was simply the one that had the most publicly available information that could meet the listing threshold. It is also possible the timing of the listing is related to a growing threat that the group poses to Canada, but this seems unlikely. Research published by the Organization for the Prevention of Violence, based in Alberta, suggests that the group is actually on the decline.
Alternatively, the listing could have been influenced by the political process. If this is the case, the government could have indicated that it wanted any right-wing extremist group listed, and Blood & Honour and Combat 18 were the only groups that most easily met the listing threshold. Many other right-wing extremist groups in Canada flirt with the line between extremism and violence, so making the case for one or more of those other groups may have been more complicated, particularly without the clear threshold of violence being crossed.
Regardless of the reason, the timing of the listing — almost three and a half months after the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, which killed 51 people at two mosques — suggests that the government of Canada, and CSIS specifically, has increased its posture on right-wing extremism and violence (as noted recently in the agency’s 2018 Annual Report). What this means in practical terms, particularly in terms of resource allocation, remains to be seen. In the case of terrorism, the seriousness with which the Canadian government and law enforcement and security services approach combatting a particular threat is usually measured by disruptions of terrorist attacks, or through the prosecution of terrorist offenses. It still remains to be seen whether combating right-wing extremist group will be prioritized.
What Does This Mean for these Groups?
For almost half of Canada’s terrorism offenses, the existence of a terrorist group is an element of the offense that must be proven. When an entity is on the terrorist list, the government need not establish that the organization in question is a terrorist group under the Criminal Code, thereby easing the prosecutor’s burden in securing a conviction.
Terrorism offenses are designed to capture “pre-crime” activity and the conduct of those who support, counsel, facilitate, harbor or are accessories to those who engage in that pre-crime activity. Designating right-wing extremist groups as terrorist entities appears to be an effort to not only recognize these groups for what they are, but to criminalize the preparatory conduct and the actions of those who may not necessarily engage in acts of violence perpetrated by these groups, but support and assist these groups in carrying out their agenda.
For instance, one of the consequences of being a listed terrorist entity is financial – the listed entity’s property must be seized or frozen and reported to FINTRAC, Canada’s financial intelligence unit. Of course, terrorist organizations rarely have accounts in the name of the group, and Blood & Honour and Combat 18 are no different. Instead, financial entities must undertake their own investigations to determine if they have accounts or property in their possession that could belong to the terrorist group, or individuals closely associated with it. This listing also means that members of Blood & Honour and Combat 18 could be subject to additional reporting on their financial activities, provided Canada’s financial entities are able to identify those members.
While Blood & Honour and Combat 18 are not believed to have extensive financial resources, the network is thought to have raised funds by selling Nazi merchandise. The listing of the group as a terrorist entity could encourage social media companies, as well as payment processors and crowdfunding websites, to prevent the group and its members from using their services to raise or move funds for right-wing extremist activities, thus reducing the group’s ability to attract new members, create propaganda, and conduct other forms of terrorist activity.
In essence, the listing of these groups makes them a national policing priority rather than a local one, giving law enforcement greater power to disrupt the group’s activities before they are executed, and gives them access to certain tools in the Criminal Code that are only available when investigating terrorism offenses. Moreover, this listing puts the investigation of these groups under CSIS’ authority whose mandate includes the investigation and disruption of terrorism but does not extend to other forms of criminal activity.
All in all, proscribing these organizations sends a strong message to far-right groups that they are on notice, and sends an equally strong message to minority communities, who are the main targets of these groups, that Canadian law enforcement is not solely concerned with securitizing marginalized communities. While, at least initially, this move might be symbolic, symbols are important. They signal to Canada’s allies that the country is taking right-wing extremist violence seriously.
Image: La Meute, a far-right, anti-immigration group, holds a rally in Quebec City, Canada, on August 20, 2017. Photo by Alice Chiche/AFP/Getty Images