TORONTO, Ontario (CTV News) — Anti-hate and civil rights groups are cautiously relieved the terrorist designation wasn’t expanded for the Proud Boys, which they say could have given law enforcement more leeway to surveil Black Lives Matter, Indigenous land defenders or others.
Critics have been worried about the definition of terrorism potentially being expanded since the federal government first publicly indicated it’d be considering adding the extremist group to its list of terrorist entities. This action followed the Proud Boys’ involvement in riots in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network, which monitors and researches hate groups, had been publically and privately lobbying the feds to ensure the neo-fascist Proud Boys fit the current criteria and officials “didn’t lower the bar” on the definition.
“We’ve concerned about who might be caught up in that net, or down the road that [expanded legislation] could be exploited to include BIPOC or anti-racist groups that the state doesn’t like,” the group’s executive director Evan Balgord told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview Wednesday.
He also explained that, in this case, he believed “the bulk of why the Proud Boys was listed is based on their activities in the United States more so than their activities in Canada… and it wouldn’t just be January 6th, but January 6th certainly did not help.”
Since the aforementioned attacks in Washington, D.C., NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh began leading the charge to designate the Proud Boys a terrorist group. Late last month, MPs unanimously agreed.
On Wednesday, Public Affairs Minister Bill Blair labelled the Proud Boys and 12 other groups as serious terror threats. According to the government, “members of the group espouse misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, and/or white supremacist ideologies and associate with white supremacist groups.”
The decision means criminalizing certain supporting activities such as training and recruitment. It could also lead to charges for people or organizations that deal with property or finances of a listed entity, which can include buying Proud Boys merchandise from the group.
And when it comes whether social justice groups should be concerned they might one day fall under a government terrorist designation, Balgord said: “We just always got to keep an eye on it, any time we’re talking about terrorism or security stuff.”
Echoing that was associate professor Patti Doyle-Bedwell, a Mi’kmaq educator, who teaches about Indigenous peoples and the law, at Dalhousie University.
“I think when you’re working on advocacy or working with Black Lives Matter, or Indigenous issues, there’s always that fear that we’ll be considered a threat to public safety,” according to Doyle-Bedwell, who said that despite assurances from the government this would not be the case.
However, Doyle-Bedwell, who has first-hand experience dealing with the Proud Boys, said they “pose a clear and present danger to society” and reiterated that she’s happy they were added to the terror list.
In 2017, she and dozens of others were protesting in front of Halifax’s Edward Cornwallis statue where members of the Proud Boys appeared and antagonized demonstrators. Five members of the agitators would be revealed to be members of Canada’s armed forces.
TERROR LISTS MIGHT NOT BE BEST WAY TO GO: ADVOCATES
As the process works, Canada’s justice department would have had input on the legality of the decision, and Blair would have then consulted cabinet on the new listings before the amendments were made to the regulations to add the new groups.
But Balgord noted that part of the terrorist designation is based on advice from security agencies, intelligence and evidence — all of which the general public will never see. And that aspect of it irks some civil rights groups.
The Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group has called the use of terror lists a “deeply problematic” provision that undermines basic principles of justice.
“Groups who are added are not informed in advance, nor given the chance to address the accusations levelled against them,” the national coalition of dozens of civil society organizations said. “Only once a group is added does the listing become public, and they are in a position to challenge their listing.”
Lawyer Hasan Alam and board member of the BC Civil Liberties Association echoed similar worries.
“By using this term, we’re normalizing the system and the problem with the system is that it’s shrouded in mystery,” he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Wednesday. “Do we want to be relying on secrete evidence provided by CSIS [Canadian Security Intelligence Service] to Bill Blair to be designating these sorts of groups?”
“It’s embedded in a national security framework and if we look historically at… who this term of terrorist has been used against, it’s mostly against marginalized communities,” he said, noting that Canada’s spy agency methods have been questioned recently.
Last year, a federal court ordered a “comprehensive external review” of CSIS after ruling the agency may have used illegally collected information for warrants to investigate extremism, The Canadian Press reported. The Trudeau government is appealing that ruling.
In order to avoid too much of this secret evidence being relied upon too much, Alam said that “we need to do it more in a transparent and public forum and if the evidence rises to a point where these groups pose a threat, prosecute them through the court system.”
“I understand why it feels good to call this organization a terrorist organization and why it might send the right signal but I think it also sends a false signal,” he said. ”Are we actually dealing with the underlying ideology of white supremacy by doing this? No we’re not.”
With files from CTV’s Rachel Aiello in Ottawa
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