Canadian Terrorist Organization Designation Process and Limitations

Updated: Jan 28

Opinion by Alexandra Wilson.

Close-up of three men wearing Proud Boys attire; focus on one wearing a black helmet with "Proud Boy" written across it in yellow.
A person wearing Proud Boys attire joins supporters of former President Donald Trump in a march in November 2020 in Washington. (Credit: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol by right-wing extremist groups has resulted in a significant uptake in their designations as terrorist organizations by Public Safety Canada [1]. Prior to the attack this year, only two ideologically motivated violent extremist groups, Blood & Honour and Combat 18, were listed under Canada’s Criminal Code as terrorist entities, both of which were almost entirely defunct at the time of their listing in 2019 [2]. Since then, six active white nationalist, paramilitary, and neo-Nazi groups have been added to the list along with one member, marking only the second time Canada has listed an individual under its Criminal Code as a terrorist entity, bringing the number of currently listed entities up to 77 [3]. 


Designation Process

Individuals and groups can be placed on this list due to the Government of Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act, which provides the Governor-in-Council the ability to establish a list of entities, defined under Canada’s Criminal Code as “a person, group, trust, partnership or fund or an unincorporated association or organization” that have either “knowingly carried out, attempted to carry out, participated in or facilitated a terrorist activity” or “knowingly acted on behalf of, at the direction of or in association with an entity that has knowingly carried out, attempted to carry out, participated in or facilitated a terrorist activity” [4]. 

The process of adding entities to this list begins with the collection of intelligence reports disclosing “reasonable grounds to believe that the entity has knowingly carried out” one or both of the aforementioned acts [5]. These intelligence reports are then submitted for consideration by the Minister of Public Safety [6]. If either of those acts is believed to have been committed by the entity, the Minister of Public Safety will then recommend that the entity be placed on the list by the Governor-in-Council, who, if satisfied, will include them [7]. The list must additionally be periodically reviewed by the Minister of Public Safety roughly every five years to ensure that it remains current [8].


Limitations

Number of Right-Wing Extremist Groups: Despite the recent influx of white supremacist groups, many remain unlisted because of the sheer volume of such organizations. In 2015, Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University, identified over 100 right-wing extremist groups; a list that Perry has now expanded to over 300 [9]. Consequently, when only a few of these groups are listed as terrorist entities, members of such groups can simply leave to join another similar minded one, thereby side-stepping the designation since members of these entities are not named individually [10]. 


Unaffiliated Individuals: A growing number of individuals are unaffiliated with extremist groups, instead choosing to drift “in and out of social media platforms associated with an array of different groups, cherry picking bits and pieces of their ideologies that suit their needs” [11]. This has made group designations of right-wing extremist organizations increasingly ineffective, as many individuals sharing these ideologies are not affiliated members, making them difficult to prosecute [12]. 

Rebranding: Concerns over designating right-wing extremist groups as terrorist entities have also stemmed from fears that it may further radicalize those who sympathize with their messaging or drive them underground [13]. Since their designation as terrorist organizations, the Proud Boys and the Three Percenters have already rebranded themselves, now operating under the labels of Canada First and the Canadian Sheepdogs to avoid their designation as terrorist organizations [14]. Many others have also begun to rebrand [15]. Therefore, domestic terrorism experts such as Daryl Johnson, a former senior analyst for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and David Hoffman, a sociology professor at the University of New Brunswick, view the government’s move as largely symbolic due to its limited ability to prevent the emergence or re-emergence of right-wing extremist groups [16]. 


Limitations

The long-term implications of these recent designations by Public Safety Canada are yet to be seen. Evidence of rebranding and increasing individualism in the right-wing extremist movement raises questions about the efficacy of terrorist designations in stemming domestic hate. The decision by Public Safety Canada to add six active white supremacist, nationalist, and paramilitary organizations to the Canada’s Criminal Code displays the Canadian Government’s firm stance against white nationalism, however its ability to protect Canadian’s targeted by these groups is limited.

 

Bibliography

[1] “Currently Listed Entities,” Public Safety Canada, n.d. https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/crrnt-lstd-ntts-en.aspx


[2] “Government of Canada lists 13 new groups as terrorist entities and completes review of seven others,” Public Safety Canada, February 3, 2021. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-safety-canada/news/2021/02/government-of-canada-lists-13-new-groups-as-terrorist-entities-and-completes-review-of-seven-others.html; Davies, G. & Wu, E. “Proud Boys terrorist group designation may deter new recruits and fundraising,” The Conversation, February 11, 2021. https://theconversation.com/proud-boys-terrorist-group-designation-may-deter-new-recruits-and-fundraising-154718


[3] “Government of Canada lists four new terrorist entities,” Public Safety Canada, June 25, 2021. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-safety-canada/news/2021/06/government-of-canada-lists-four-new-terrorist-entities.html; Davies, G. & Wu, E., February 11, 2021  


[4] “About the listing process,” Public Safety Canada, n.d. https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/bt-lstng-prcss-en.aspx


[5] “About the listing process,” Public Safety Canada, n.d. 


[6] “About the listing process,” Public Safety Canada, n.d. 


[7] “About the listing process,” Public Safety Canada, n.d. 


[8] “About the listing process,” Public Safety Canada, n.d. 


[9] Reynolds, C., “Two more extreme right-wing groups join Proud Boys on Canada’s terror list,” CTV News, June 25, 2021. https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/two-more-extreme-right-wing-groups-join-proud-boys-on-canada-s-terror-list-1.5485502


[10]  Kelshall, C., “Designating the Proud Boys a terrorist organization won’t stop hate-fuelled violence,” The Conversation, February 9, 2021. https://theconversation.com/designating-the-proud-boys-a-terrorist-organization-wont-stop-hate-fuelled-violence-154709; Jacobs, E., “Proud Boys Named ‘Terrorist Entity’ in Canada,” NPR, May 2, 2021. https://www.npr.org/2021/05/02/992846086/proud-boys-named-terrorist-entity-in-canada


[11] Jacobs, E., May 2, 2021. 


[12] Cecco, L., “Canada designates Proud Boys as terrorist organization beside Isis and al-Qaida,” The Guardian, February 3, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/feb/03/canada-designates-proud-boys-terrorist-organization-rightwing


[13] Kelshall, C., February 9, 2021 


[14] Kelshall, C., February 9, 2021 


[15] Kelshall, C., February 9, 2021 


[16] Jefferys, J. “Canada needs to brace itself for the next chapter of far-right extremism,” MacLeans, April 15, 2021. https://www.macleans.ca/opinion/canada-needs-to-brace-itself-for-the-next-chapter-of-far-right-extremism/; McGowan, A. “Why Canada may designate the Proud Boys a terrorist group,” The World, January 13, 2021. https://theworld.org/stories/2021-01-13/why-canada-may-designate-proud-boys-terrorist-group