OTTAWA — The Trudeau government has added the Proud Boys and three other extreme right-wing groups to its list of terrorist organizations as it seeks to tackle the sort of neo-fascism and white nationalism that boiled over in the U.S. last month.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced Wednesday that the four right-wing groups are among 13 additions to the list along with three groups linked to al-Qaida, four associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and one Kashmiri organization.
Groups on Canada's roster of terrorist entities, created after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, may have their assets seized, and there are serious criminal penalties for helping listed organizations carry out extremist activities.
The decision to add the Proud Boys had been anticipated after the storming of Capitol Hill in Washington last month focused a spotlight on the group and Blair confirmed Canadian authorities were looking into its activities.
The House of Commons then passed an NDP motion calling on the government to use all available tools to address the proliferation of white supremacists and hate groups, starting with designating the Proud Boys as a terrorist entity.
Blair on Wednesday repeatedly denied any political influence in the decision to list the Proud Boys and three other right-wing extremist organizations, which officials have lumped under the catch-all term “ideologically motivated violent extremist groups.”
“This process of listing a terrorist entity cannot be political,” Blair said during a news conference.
“It has to be based entirely on evidence, intelligence and the law. And that's why I’ve tried very carefully to articulate the depth of gathering that evidence and intelligence that has been taking place over several months and even years.”
Canada’s decision to list the Proud Boys resonated in Washington, where White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. would await the results of an ongoing intelligence assessment of domestic terror threats before deciding whether to follow suit.
"We of course have a review underway, a domestic violent extremism review that’s underway by our national security team to take a look at violence and this type of concerning group activity across the country,” Psaki told the daily media briefing.
"I expect we will wait for that review to conclude before we make any determinations."
The other three right-wing extremist groups added Wednesday were The Base, the Atomwaffen Division and the Russian Imperial Movement, all of which are described as neo-Nazi and white-supremacy organizations.
The listing process begins with intelligence reports that provide reason to believe an organization has knowingly carried out, attempted to carry out, participated in or facilitated a terrorist activity.
If the public safety minister believes the threshold is met, the minister may recommend to the federal cabinet that the organization be added to the list. The listing is then published if the cabinet agrees with the recommendation.
A listed group is not banned, nor is it a crime to be on the roster. However, the group's assets and property are effectively frozen and subject to seizure or forfeiture.
Canada previously placed two right-wing extremist groups on the list in 2019: Blood and Honour, which is an international neo-Nazi network, and its armed branch, Combat 18.
They joined more than 50 other listed organizations including al-Qaida, the Islamic State militant group, Boko Haram and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Senior officials speaking on background ahead of Blair’s announcement said authorities had been monitoring and collecting evidence about the Proud Boys and other right-wing extremist groups before the Capitol Hill attack on Jan. 6.
But both they and the minister confirmed that the event provided information that helped with the decision to list the Proud Boys, which first rose to prominence in Canada when several members interrupted an Indigenous protest in Halifax in 2017.
They said Canada is the first country to put the Proud Boys on such a list.
Blair went on to list a number of other incidents in the United States in recent years when right-wing extremists and white supremacists participated in violent demonstrations or other incidents.
"On several different occasions we have seen the tragic results that this type of extremism can bring to Canadian soil," he added, giving the shooting deaths of six Muslim worshippers at a mosque in Quebec City in January 2017 as an example.
"The threat of ideologically motivated extremism has been identified as the most significant threat to domestic security in Canada."
The National Council of Canadian Muslims as well as the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs were among those welcoming the addition of the four right-wing extremist groups on Wednesday.
Yet the Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group urged officials to find more democratic and transparent means to deal with such organizations, saying the terror list threatens the basic principles of justice.
“This law and others have been decried by legal experts, civil liberties organizations, and racial justice advocates as threatening the fundamental rights of Canadians and people in Canada, and perpetuating the racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia inherent to the ‘War on Terror,’” the ICLMG wrote in an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who had been pushing for the Proud Boys to be designated a terrorist group, welcomed the new listings while acknowledging concerns about Canada’s terror laws.
"They have been historically used to marginalize, unjustly, some of the people that are most marginalized, and that is a real critique that's been raised by a number of human rights groups and civil rights groups," he said.
"Moving forward, we need to change our approach with the outcome of dismantling these (extremist) groups, and the best tools to achieve that should be used."
Blair similarly acknowledged concerns around the terror laws, but added: “I want to assure those who very much care about civil liberties that our government does too.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2021.
— with files from James McCarten in Washington, D.C.
Lee Berthiaume and Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version suggested the riots on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., took place earlier this month instead of in January.