“Old wine, new labels.” When it comes to the alt-right, that’s the phrase that comes to mind for Dr. Barbara Perry. A hate crime researcher for almost 20 years, she’s found little difference in the views held by right-wing extremists active in Canada now and those of years past.
With white nationalist rallies and hate-motivated violence appearing to run rampant in the U.S., the existence of hate groups in Canada may come as news to some.
National hate crime data from both countries are on par. The latest Statistics Canada hate crime report reveals an overall rise by five percent from the previous year. The 2016 FBI report on hate crimes finds that reports also rose by five percent. Almost 60 percent of these crimes were racially motivated.
It’s Perry’s opinion that the explicit dismissal of hate-based violence in Canada is a case of national denial. “It's embedded in our psyche, I think, that we are the best example of the success of multiculturalism. There's still failure or unwillingness to acknowledge our flaws, the chinks in our armour,” Perry says.
Right-Wing Extremism In Canada
Contrary to belief, white supremacists, anti-immigrant groups, and Holocaust deniers in Canada have been actively organizing for decades.
In a research project conducted from 2013 to 2015, Perry and academic Ryan Scrivens concluded there are at least 100 white supremacist groups across Canada. Perry estimates that since then, there’s been a 20 to 25 percent increase.
Perry’s studies reveal that right-wing extremism takes a different from north of the border: more loosely organized and less focused on gun rights. And groups like the Three Percenters, Soldiers of Odin, and Storm Alliance have started to form coalitions.
However, that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. The U.S. political climate has valorized the activity of these groups.
“They're heavily armed, they're trained in military tactics and have very rigorous training. That really worries me,” Perry says. “You combine that with the street patrols they're engaging in, and that's just a recipe for disaster.”
While examples of hate-motivated violence are more well-known south of the border, Canada has its cases too.
Anti-Black Hate: In the 1910s, The U.S. KKK spread to several provinces across Canada in the 1920s. Torontoist notes how in 1930, Klansmen terrorized a black war veteran in Oakville, erecting burning crosses in town to condemn his interracial marriage.
Although their numbers have drastically dwindled since then, their presence is still felt. Last year, a Klansmen recruitment drive was discovered on B.C. doorsteps.
Holocaust denial: Anti-Semitic views became a concern Canada in the 1980s and 1990s when landmark cases against a wave of Holocaust deniers like James Keegstra became national news.
The dissemination of hate ideology can trace its roots to Canada too. Holocaust denier and Toronto publisher Ernst Zündel’s website in the nineties was a precursor to many right-wing extremism forums.
Anti-Muslim Violence: A national tragedy took place in January after six were gunned down in the Quebec City mosque shooting.
Statistics Canada reports that hate incidents against Muslims up by 60 percent. Non-Muslims have also faced Islamophobia; Sikh NDP leader Jagmeet Singh endured anti-Muslim heckling while on the campaign trail.
Race-based Xenophobia: Several videos posted online have documented individuals yelling ethnic slurs and anti-immigrant rhetoric at people of colour this year, including verbal abuse against employees in a Toronto grocery store, a taxi driver in Saskatoon, an elderly couple in Markham, and on public transit in Vancouver.
Rallies And Protests: Far-right demonstrations have been held in Toronto, Quebec, and Vancouver. A Canadian faction of the alt-right Proud Boys disrupted an Indigenous protest of Canada Day celebrations in Halifax.
Challenging Hate: How Canadians Are Resisting
Like in the U.S., Perry notes that hate incidents in Canada tend to spike after a targeted group is visible in the news, political campaigns, or local happenings.
These incidents are countered by resistance. When far-right rallies have taken place in major cities, they’ve been outnumbered by counter-protesters.
In August, supporters of an anti-Muslim rally in Vancouver were outnumbered by thousands of counter-protesters, CBC reports.
Perry commends counter-rally protesters, as well as journalists and researchers who use their platforms to engage the public on issues involving far-right radicalization.
And in Perry’s experience, you’re never too young to challenge hate. “Youth are most vulnerable to recruitment, but they're also more likely to listen to one another. I think the youth voice can be so powerful in that respect,” she says.