The Current

Applying terror laws to incel violence must not 'distract' from everyday misogyny women face: expert

Experts say classing misogynist violence as terrorism will give authorities more tools to fight the problem, but there are concerns that crimes like domestic violence could be pushed to the side for a focus on large-scale terror attacks.

17-year-old facing terrorism charges over February killing of Toronto woman

One woman was killed and two other people were injured in an attack at a massage parlour in Toronto on Feb. 24. Police say they have evidence linking the attack to incel ideology. (Michael Cole/CBC)
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A 17-year-old accused of fatally stabbing a woman has become the first person in Canada to be charged with terror offences allegedly linked to incel ideology, but one expert worries terror laws are "really designed for a different problem."

"Are we going to get the kind of focus on femicide that is the killing of women because they're women? Or are we going to get a very complicated legal regime where we're trying to meet evidentiary bars that are very high — that are really made for a different kind of crime?" said Amanda Dale, a legal scholar and an advisory member with the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability.

Dale fears cases of femicide could be contorted to meet the high bar required to secure a terrorism conviction, or domestic violence could be pushed to the side to focus on large-scale violent attacks. 

Police announced terrorism-related charges against the 17-year-old on Tuesday following the stabbing death of 24-year-old Ashley Noell Arzaga at a Toronto massage parlour in February. The teenager's identity is protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Toronto Police say a February homicide at a massage parlour was incel-related and have charged the teenage suspect with terrorism. 1:56

Police said the decision to pursue a terrorism conviction came after it was determined the attack was inspired by incel ideology. The term refers to a misogynist movement where "involuntary celibates" blame women for their lack of sexual experience.

"Terrorism comes in many forms and it's important to note that it is not restricted to any particular group, religion or ideology," Toronto police and the RCMP said in a news release.

Dale says the case is a positive development for groups fighting violence against women that often struggle with silence around the issue. 

"It may be that this novel approach by the office of the prosecution will be successful in this case and will raise this particular form of violence against women to public discourse," she told The Current's Matt Galloway.

"But my concern is not to distract us from the hard work of just making existing laws and [the] legal system amenable to ordinary women, who are facing these crimes every day." 

Incel ideology not widely known: expert

Former national security analyst Stephanie Carvin says many people have never heard of incel ideology, and those who have may not realize it can be the root of violent attacks.

"It's hard to fight a problem unless people in society really kind of know or understand what it is," said Carvin, an assistant professor of international relations at Carleton University.

Unless people are aware of that threat, they won't come forward- Stephanie Carvin

Incel-related violence in Canada has included a knife attack on a mother and her children in Sudbury, Ont., last June, and a van attack that killed 10 people in Toronto in 2018

Carvin told Galloway that by their nature, lone actor attacks like these are difficult for authorities to prevent.

"In order for us to stop them, we need people surrounding these individuals to recognize that …  this person may actually be engaging in threat-related activity that could result in a violent attack," she said.

"Unless people are aware of that threat, they won't come forward." 

Dale agreed that terror laws could give authorities more tools to catch offenders, and trace their networks.

"If you accept the framework of terrorist laws and the powers that they grant, these guys should be subject to them just like anyone else," she said.

Amanda Dale said the case is a positive development for groups fighting violence against women that often struggle with silence around the issue. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

But she has "lingering" concerns about the international legal framework around terrorism, citing issues such as a lack of oversight, evidence kept secret, and human rights issues around detention.

The "global so-called war on terrorism" has "never been very well defined legally," she said.

"Adopting that wholesale — for the prosecution of misogynist crimes — to me warrants some thinking through."

Need to be bolder: Carvin

Carvin says there are difficulties in proving grievance-based ideologies are terrorist movements as defined by the Criminal Code, "which is basically violence inspired in whole or in part by a political, ideological or religious cause." 

In the case of the Toronto van attack, she noted that Alek Minassian, the accused driver, is charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.

Police already had a large crime scene, multiple victims, and charges that could lead to up to 250 years in prison, she added. 

"Adding a terrorism charge on to that doesn't actually make a lot of sense, particularly if it's a difficult, unconventional thing to prove," Carvin said.

But she says she's seen a change in recent years, particularly since the 2019 attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.

"There's been an attitudinal shift that we need to actually be a little bit more bold in how we prosecute these offences," she said. 

"Even if it is a little bit more difficult, it's an important thing to do."


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Sarah-Joyce Battersby and Rachel Levy-McLaughlin

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