As It Happens

NDP leader calls for Proud Boys to be designated a terrorist group

Following the attack at the U.S. Capitol building last week by an array of pro-Trump groups, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says the Proud Boys, a right-wing group with roots in Canada, should be designated a terrorist group.

'They have been participating in acts of violence, purposely disrupting democracy,' says Jagmeet Singh

Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys, stands during a protest on December 12, 2020 in Washington, DC. along with hundreds of protesters who refuse to accept that President-elect Joe Biden won the election. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Following the attack at the U.S. Capitol building last week by an array of pro-Trump groups, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says the Proud Boys should be designated a terrorist group.

"Given their involvement in the violence, in the undermining of democracy and the incitement of those horrible images that we saw out of Washington, D.C., I think it is very clear this is a group that should not be able to operate in Canada," said Singh.

On Sunday, Canadian authorities announced they are collecting information about the far-right Proud Boys group as part of a possible terrorist designation.

Founded by Canadian Gavin McInnes, the Proud Boys are a far-right group linked to white supremacy and hate. It was banned by Facebook and Instagram in October 2018 for violating their hate policies.

Singh spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about how he thinks the federal government should deal with groups like the Proud Boys. Here is part of that conversation.

Do you have any evidence that Canadians or Canadian parts of Proud Boys took part in the events of Wednesday?

Not specifically. There is some indication of Canadian flags present at the site of the violence and the undermining of democracy, but it's not clear if there were actually Canadians present or not. But it does give us clear evidence of the intentions of this type of organisation. It's clear that their rhetoric is hateful and divisive, and they have been participating in acts of violence, purposely disrupting democracy.

And we know that they're not alone. There's over 300 extreme right-wing groups operating in Canada, and we don't think that banning Proud Boys is enough on its own. It's one clear step, given the recent events, but we need to go beyond that as well.

But I mean, the rhetoric — they're Islamophobic, they're misogynist, they are anti-immigration, against anyone else but white Europeans, they feel they're under siege. All of it's odious — the things that they represent, things they've said. But what is the threshold to actually be designated as a terrorist organisation?

Well, based on the security report that we received recently, the real threats to Canadian security are coming from extreme right-wing groups and groups that are going beyond just talking about divisive politics, but then promoting hate and violence. And with the events of Washington, D.C., it's clear that the Proud Boys played an active role ...

What they tried to do was really fundamentally undermine a democratic election with no evidence, and to engage in hateful rhetoric, and then back it up with the type of violence we saw. [It] comes to the point where it is pretty clear this is a group that clearly poses a security threat.

In this April 27, 2017 file photo, Gavin McInnes, center, founder of the far-right group Proud Boys, is surrounded by supporters after speaking at a rally in Berkeley, Calif. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press)

The co-founder of Proud Boys was Gavin McInnes, a Canadian. But is there evidence that they have actually committed crimes of violence in Canada?

There is not clear evidence to the extent that we've seen in the States. But [it's] similar to how designations have applied to organisations that have committed violence around the world, and then they're deemed to be a threat or a concern in Canada.

Given the proximity, we have neighbours to the south, clear evidence of not just divisive rhetoric, but violence and violent acts being perpetrated. It comes to the point where it is very clear that this group — as you mentioned, one of the co-founders exists and operates in Canada — poses a real risk to Canadians. And given what we've seen, given the fact that there's not been a clear denunciation of those activities by any private organisation, they proudly honour the fact that they were involved in this.

And that's just more testimony to how important it is for this group to be banned and that they pose a real risk here in Canada. We know that there's been similar rhetoric around people that are expressing their disagreement with a politician and moving to violence.

The recent attack at Parliament, where we saw a gunman with multiple guns ram through the gates of Rideau Hall and pose a threat to not only the prime minister, but also the Governor General, we know that there are these types of extreme right-wing ideas that are inflaming tensions and putting real risks in place for Canadians.

Members of the Proud Boys stand near Black Lives Matter Plaza on December 12, 2020 in Washington, D.C., protesting the results of the U.S. election. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

But by outlawing them, banning them, declaring a terrorist organisation, does that not just push them underground? Is it really the best route to actually declare Proud Boys as this problem and not to try and ferret out the actual elements of it?

What we saw with the election of Donald Trump, and I think with his presidency, is that he emboldened a lot of hate — and then, in doing so, put more people at risk. What the Proud Boys' continued existence and operation does [is] it emboldens hate; it emboldens violence. And so by banning this group, it really would have a chilling effect on this group. And we hope to expand that to other groups that are posing this threat.

But by banning them, it also means that there's more resources that are focused on actually preventing their expansion, if they do continue to operate underground. So we've got to take that approach.

And there's also real legitimate concerns around people that are faced with economic injustice, can't find a good job or can't find a home to live in, and how they become vulnerable to being manipulated by people that tell them it's the fault of a new Canadian or someone from [a different] religious background. And we also have to acknowledge that economic inequality are some things that we have to address, not just because it's the right thing to do, but it also keeps us all safer.

Given that this is a white nationalist organisation, that they are against immigration, they would like to see Canada restored as a white European nation, is this personal for you at some level?

I think about the nature of hatred, and hatred in my experience, is not something that can be neatly contained in a boundary. It's more like a flame — a fire. And it's very easy to spread.

The Proud Boys aren't just limited to anti-immigration or anti-Muslim; they're also anti-women, they're misogynistic. And we've seen the impact of misogyny in Canada. We continue to reel at the loss of the incredible bright young women at the École Polytechnique and in the killing that happened in Toronto, where with a van, someone, again, fuelled by misogynistic beliefs, attacked and killed people.

So hate is one of those things that does not have a neat boundary. It spreads. Once it's OK to hate someone based on the colour of their skin or their ethnic origin or their language, it can spread to gender and sexuality and it makes everyone more at risk. So I really see this common link that if we see any form of hate, there is a personal risk at stake. We all have to use our position to tackle it so that we can protect all of us.

Written by Lito Howse with files from The Canadian Press. Produced by Kevin Robertson.

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