By Jacky Habib  

Neo-Nazi groups in the U.S. are the focus of Documenting Hate, a new documentary from The Passionate Eye. The result of a year-long investigation, the film puts a spotlight on some of the groups behind the deadly violence in Charlottesville and how they went unpunished and continued to operate.

Experts say Canadians should also be concerned about the rise of hate groups in this country. There are at minimum 130 active right-wing extremist groups across Canada according to Dr. Barbara Perry, an expert on hate crime — a 30 per cent increase from 2015.

Most of these groups are organized around ideologies against religion and race — with anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish sentiments being the most common, followed by hate against immigrants, Indigenous people, women, LGBTQ communities and other minorities.

Perry says multiple alt-right rallies that 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 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,” Perry says.

She points to groups like the Three Percenters — which have chapters across Canada — and whose members are known for having military and paramilitary training.

Statistics also show that hate crimes are also on the rise in Canada. Criminal incidents motivated by hate reported to police rose by 3 per cent from 2015 to 2016, for a total of 1,409 crimes. According to Perry, most of these hate crimes documented by police are by individuals who are not part of hate groups.

Of these crimes, 43 per cent were deemed violent offences, which included assault, uttering threats and criminal harassment — accounting for a 16 per cent increase from the previous year.

This police data is based on incidents that have been substantiated by investigations and largely depends on victims’ willingness to report the crime. Additional data from Statistics Canada shows that two out of every three people who believed they were victims of hate crimes did not report these incidents to police.

Perry explains that many factors contribute to this, including mistrust of police. “The police themselves have a history with anti-gay violence or anti-trans violence so [people from these communities] are less likely to report.” Her research shows that 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 neo-Nazi groups from disseminating information online is critical. The network, which launched in May of this year, credits itself with shutting down Canada’s largest alt-right podcast and forum.

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 around the Bathurst and St. Clair area in Toronto 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. “Now we’re seeing in terms of real-life organizing, they are coming out to support Faith Goldy’s campaign for mayor of Toronto. They are also excited by Maxime Bernier’s party,” he shares.

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 popular on 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 before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. These cases have resulted in precedent-setting rulings including the first-ever case where an Internet Service Provider was deemed liable for failing to remove hate propaganda from the Internet.

In another case, it resulted in Canada’s first-ever prison term for Internet hate crime which was handed to neo-Nazi Tomasz Winnicki of London, Ontario. He routinely wrote hateful messages online about multiculturalism, people of colour, immigrants, and Jews. After defying a court order to stop, Winnicki 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 Code, which pertained to hate speech, was removed by the Harper government in 2013.  She says there has been an effort by law enforcement to separate hate groups from terrorist groups — which is a label they reserve for Islamists — although she says alt-right groups should be classified as such.

Responding to the neo-Nazi Movement

Perry says Canadians have been exceptional at showing solidarity at alt-right rallies, by showing up and 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 America], but we can’t deny it here any longer, it’s just blatant.”