By Jacky Habib  

Neo-Nazi groups in the United States are the focus of Documenting Hate and Documenting Hate: New American Nazis, both documentaries from The Passionate Eye. The result of a year-long investigation, these films put a spotlight on some of the groups behind the deadly violence in the U.S., how their acts have gone unpunished and how they have continued to operate.

But experts say Canadians should also be concerned about the rise of hate groups in this country. There are, at minimum, 130 active far-right extremist groups across Canada according to Barbara Perry, a professor and expert on hate crime — a 30 per cent increase, she says, from 2015.

Most of these groups are organized around ideologies against certain religions and races, with anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish sentiments being the most common, followed by hatred for immigrants, Indigenous people, women, LGBTQ communities and other minority groups.

Perry says multiple so-called alt-right rallies happen in Canada every week and that hate groups here have recently been forming coalitions. “It’s reflective of Charlottesville’s ‘Unite the Right,’” Perry says. “It shows a disturbing trend: that they have solidarity and a real movement with a shared vision.”

As for whether the incidents like the riots in Charlottesville, Va., could ever happen in Canada, Perry won’t rule it out. “It only takes one or two people to go off the rails. I’m not going to say it can’t happen here. We have some very aggressive members and some armed groups.”

She points to groups like the Three Percenters, which have chapters in Alberta and Ontario, and whose members are known for having military and paramilitary training.

Statistics also show that hate crimes are on the rise in Canada. Criminal incidents motivated by hate and reported to police rose by more than 60 per cent between 2014 and 2017, when 2,073 were reported.

Of these crimes, 38 per cent were violent offences, which included assault, uttering threats and criminal harassment. And according to Perry, most of the crimes documented by police are by individuals who are not currently part of a specific hate group, suggesting it’s a more pervasive problem than we might think.

This police data is based on incidents that have been substantiated by investigations and largely depends on victims’ willingness to report the crime. Perry explains that many factors may contribute to victims choosing not to report, including mistrust of police. “The police themselves have a history with anti-gay violence and anti-trans violence, so [people from these communities] are less likely to report.”

According to her research, Perry says, as much as 80 to 85 per cent of hate crimes go unreported.

Emerging trends in Canada

Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, says that preventing hate groups from disseminating information online is critical. The Network, which launched in 2018, took part in shutting down Canada’s largest neo-Nazi podcast.

Some hate groups, however, take to more traditional methods to spread their messages. Earlier this month, Balgord received a tip about an alt-right group that hung posters featuring neo-Nazi imagery around the Bathurst and St. Clair area in Toronto in an effort to recruit members.

He says the radicalization process happens quickly and that people typically go from consuming hate material online to organizing offline. Balgord says they are increasingly involved in mainstream politics. “We’re seeing, in terms of real-life organizing, they [were] coming out to support Faith Goldy’s campaign for mayor of Toronto. They are also excited by Maxime Bernier’s party.”

Unlike in the U.S., Balgord says members of hate groups in Canada are concerned about optics and keeping a low profile, so they aren’t vocal about their political involvement.

Another recent trend he cites is that the neo-Nazi movement is aligning itself with so-called free speech events or “men’s rights” events, which are increasingly popular on university and college campuses.

‘Legislation is weak’ on hate speech in Canada

Ottawa-based lawyer Richard Warman has spent the last 20 years monitoring hate in Canada, with a particular focus on white supremacist and neo-Nazi movements.

He has been the successful complainant in 16 cases dealing with Internet hate, many before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. These cases have resulted in precedent-setting rulings, including the first case where an Internet Service Provider was deemed liable for failing to remove hate propaganda.

Another case resulted in Canada’s first prison term for Internet hate crime, which was handed to neo-Nazi Tomasz Winnicki of London, Ont. Winnicki routinely wrote hateful messages online about multiculturalism, people of colour, immigrants and Jews. After defying a court order to stop, he was sentenced to nine months in prison.

Despite this, Perry says the law in Canada isn’t strong enough. “The legislation is weak, and the enforcement is even weaker,” she says.

Perry explains that Canada’s current laws don’t specify repercussions for organizing in hate groups, especially since Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which pertained to hate speech, was repealed by the Harper government in 2013.
Perry says there has been an effort by law enforcement to separate hate groups from terrorist groups — a label they tend to reserve for militant Islamist groups — though she believes alt-right groups should be classified as such.

Responding to the rise of hate groups

Perry says Canadians have been exceptional at showing up at alt-right rallies in protest, often outnumbering the demonstrators. She stresses the importance of being an ally on a personal level when witnessing hate speech or crime.

The public education piece is also essential. Although Canadians are becoming more aware of the existence of alt-right groups, Perry says we remain mostly ignorant. “Canadians are very complacent. It’s worse [in the U.S.], but we can’t deny it here any longer — it’s just blatant.”

Watch Documenting Hate and Documenting Hate: New American Nazis on The Passionate Eye.