Canada labels the Proud Boys, neo-Nazi groups as terrorists

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced today that the federal government will designate 13 groups as terrorist entities, adding some white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups to a list already populated with militant Islamist organizations.

Move comes after media reports linked Proud Boys members to those who stormed U.S. Capitol last month

Proud Boys among 13 new additions to Canada's list of terror groups

3 years ago
Duration 1:08
Canada's Public Safety Minister Bill Blair designates 13 new groups as terrorist entities.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced today that the federal government will designate 13 groups as terrorist entities, adding some white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups to a list already populated with militant Islamist organizations.

The federal government will now classify the Proud Boys (a neo-fascist organization with chapters in Canada and the U.S.), the Atomwaffen Division, AWD (a group that calls for acts of violence against racial, religious and ethnic groups), and the Base (another neo-Nazi organization that advocates for violence to incite a race war), as terrorist entities under the Criminal Code.

The government considers these three groups, along with another new addition, the Russian Imperial Movement (a Russian paramilitary group with ties to neo-Nazi groups worldwide), as "ideologically motivated violent extremists."

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) defines the term as extremism driven by a range of grievances and ideas from across the traditional ideological spectrum.

"No matter the ideological motivation, they're all hateful, intolerant and, as we've seen, they can be highly dangerous," Blair said Wednesday, adding that he hopes expanding the terrorist list will send a message to groups intent on sowing division and hate and causing harm, that their actions will not be tolerated by law enforcement.

"Their violent actions and rhetoric are fuelled by white supremacy, anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and misogyny, and unfortunately, often in combination of all of the above. On several different occasions we have seen the tragic results that this type of extremism can bring to Canadian soil," Blair said referencing the 2017 Quebec City mosque attack and the 2018 Toronto van attack.

A group is added to the terrorist list if Canada's security and intelligence agencies, after an "extremely rigorous" probe, find "reasonable grounds to believe that an entity has knowingly participated in or facilitated a terrorist activity," the government said in announcing the new designations.

It is not necessarily a crime to be a member of these groups, but designating an organization as a terrorist entity can have serious criminal and financial consequences.

Banks can now freeze assets and police can charge anyone who financially or materially supports such a group.

Under section 83 of the Criminal Code, it is an indictable offence to "collect property," "provide or invite a person to provide, or make available property or financial or other related services," to a terrorist entity.

Sarah Teich, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, and a counter-terrorism researcher, said the designation is "a real, meaningful concrete move" that sends a clear signal Canada is taking right-wing extremism seriously.

"It makes it much, much harder for these groups to operate in any meaningful way in Canada. Canadians can no longer interact with them in any substantial way, and if they do, they could face a criminal offence," she said in an interview.

Armed members of the Proud Boys groups stand guard during a memorial for Patriot Prayer member Aaron Jay Danielson in September 2020 in Vancouver, Wash. Danielson was shot and killed last August, during a pro-Trump rally in Portland, Ore. The federal government will today list the Proud Boys, a neo-fascist organization, as a terrorist group. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

For example, buying the group's paraphernalia or paying membership dues could result in a jail term of up to 10 years, she said.

The Proud Boys was formed in 2016 by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, a Canadian. The group of self-described "Western chauvinists" has a history of street violence, including against Black Lives Matter demonstrators and Indigenous protesters.

Blair said the Proud Boys "absolutely" pose an imminent security threat to Canada.

"It is deeply concerning. There's been an escalation, not only in rhetoric, but security and planning," he said. "Countering this group has become an important priority for the government of Canada."

WATCH: Bill Blair says the Proud Boys are among 13 new additions to Canada's terrorist list:

Canada is the first country to designate the all-male group as a terrorist entity akin to the Taliban, the International Sikh Youth Federation and dozens of other dangerous groups.

Last month MPs voted unanimously to call on the government to add them to the terror list following the storming of Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.

Proud Boys have been under watch

Multiple media reports have linked Proud Boys members to those who stormed Capitol Hill after a speech by then-U.S. president Donald Trump on Jan. 6. A self-described organizer for the Proud Boys has been arrested for taking part in the siege.

A security official, speaking on background, said the Proud Boys have been under review for some time and the Jan. 6 attack "wasn't the only factor and it wasn't the driving factor" in designating the group as a terrorist entity.

"It's a group that we've been looking at as a community for a while," the official said.

The official said the Commons motion, pushed by NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, was also not a motivating factor in designating the Proud Boys as terrorists. There was "no political motivation whatsoever," the official said, adding Canada's national security agencies alone determine which groups should be legally branded with this terrorist label.

Singh called the terrorist designation "the right thing to do," and urged the government to go even further and move to dismantle all white supremacist and extreme far-right groups that pose a threat to Canada's security.

"We need to build a country where everyone feels like they belong. Those hateful groups have no place in our country," he said.

In this April 27, 2017 file photo, Gavin McInnes, centre, founder of the far-right group Proud Boys, is surrounded by supporters after speaking at a rally in Berkeley, Calif. The Proud Boys have been designated a terrorist entity. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo)

Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs, the party's critic for public safety, said the Tories will "always support measures to keep Canadians safe" and they welcome the new terrorist designations for these "white supremacist hate groups."

But, Stubbs said, the Liberal government has been "soft on extremism" because it has not imposed sanctions on the Iranian agents responsible for shooting down flight PS752 last year, which killed 55 Canadians and 30 permanent residents.

She said Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) must be designated as a terrorist entity. (The guard's paramilitary Quds Force is already on the list.) 

'Hate camps'

The Atomwaffen Division, which is known in some circles as the National Socialist Order, has previously held training "hate camps," where members receive weapons and hand-to-hand combat training. The group's members have also carried out violent acts at public rallies, including the August 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Va.

The Base, a largely U.S.-based group which advocates for the creation of a white ethno-state, has trained members on lone-wolf terror attacks, bomb-making, counter-surveillance and guerilla warfare, officials said. Members of the group carried out attacks at a January 2020 rally in Virginia.

Asked why other groups, like Ku Klux Klan and the Three Percenters, an anti-government militia movement, were not added to the list, an official said they have not yet met the government's threshold for a terrorist designation.

Beyond the neo-Nazi groups, the government has expanded the list of ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates that are considered terrorist groups, including ISIS chapters in Bangladesh and East Asia. The government has also listed the Hizbul Mujahideen, a militant group that wants to unite the Indian and Pakistan-administered parts of Kashmir.

The full list of 13 new terrorist entities: 

  • Atomwaffen Division
  • The Base
  • The Proud Boys
  • Russian Imperial Movement
  • Three Al-Qaeda affiliates: Jama'at Nusrat Al-Islam Wal-Muslimin, Front de  Libération du Macina, and Ansar Dine 
  • Five ISIS affiliates: Islamic State West Africa Province, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, Islamic State in Libya, Islamic State East Asia, and Islamic State - Bangladesh
  • Hizbul Mujahideen