OTTAWA — Canada’s spy agency will now recognize the incel movement as ideologically motivated violent extremism, which opens a new door for gender-driven violence to be treated as terrorism and a national security offence.
It’s a new approach to online forums for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), according to Amarnath Amarasingam, assistant professor at Queen’s University.
“It does mean that overall these kinds of different ideologies are something that are going to increasingly be on national security radars as opposed to just localized hate speech laws,” said Amarasingam, a terrorism researcher at the university’s school of religion.
Watch: suspect explains incel motive for Toronto van attack. Story continues below video.
Incel is short for “involuntarily celibates” — an online community the department of women and gender equality describes as a “subgroup of men who believe women owe them sex and blame women when they are unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one.”
Though the incel movement was singled out as an example of gender-driven violence, the agency says it’s moving away from focusing on specific movements.
In CSIS’s latest annual report, published Wednesday, the agency said labels such as “left-wing” and “right-wing,” which appeared in previous annual reports, will no longer be used. These terms are “subjective” and “inaccurate” shorthands in describing “the complexity of motivations” of ideologically motivated violent extremism, the report read.
Instead, CSIS is adapting its language on violent extremism to be closer to how terrorism is interpreted in the Criminal Code, which defines it as acts motivated on political, religious, or ideological grounds.
Ideologically motivated violent extremism, according to CSIS, is separated into four categories: xenophobic, anti-authoritarian, gender-driven, and grievance-driven violence.
The change in language comes after a series of ideologically motivated violent extremists acts including the 2018 Toronto van attack that left 10 people dead and 16 others injured, and April’s mass shooting in rural Nova Scotia that killed 22 people.
The report was published one day after the RCMP and Toronto Police Service laid terrorism-related charges against a 17-year-old suspect in a massage parlour attack that left a woman dead and two others injured earlier this year.
It’s the first time Canadian police have recognized an alleged misogynistic crime as terrorism.
Ashley Arzaga, 24, was killed inside Crown Spa in North York after she was allegedly stabbed multiple times by the male suspect on Feb. 24. A man and woman were found outside the business, suffering from multiple stab wounds.
In a Tuesday news release, the RCMP said it worked with the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to build a case that the teenage suspect was “inspired by the ideologically motivated violent extremist movement commonly known as incel.”
The suspect, who is a minor and cannot be named, was initially charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder. Those charges were upgraded Tuesday after police found evidence the crime is a potential “terrorist activity” as defined in a section of the Criminal Code.
Amarasingam told HuffPost Canada the upgraded terrorism charge shows the prosecution is willing to take a risk based on the evidence they were able to find.
He explained how, in the past, prosecutors have “shied away” from proving a terrorism motive in court if there was other stronger, more “obvious” evidence available.
The death tolls in the Toronto van attack and the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting put multiple counts of murder on the suspects at the centre of those crimes, he explained.
“They didn’t try very hard in court to then say let’s add a terrorism charge or let’s add a hate crime charge on top of it and kind of test out the motive game in court at the risk of losing … they had him on a bunch of other things… easily and cheaply.”
But laying a terrorism charge is one thing, building a case to lead to a conviction, or acquittal, is another.
“The challenge is going to be can you prove that the incel subculture is actually a coherent ideology and [if] this individual acted based on that coherent ideology, that it was an actual motivating factor that was key in mobilizing him to violence,” Amarasingam said.
Incels are not considered one of the 60 listed terrorist entities by Public Safety Canada. All except two are jihadist groups.
Amarasingam said, from a political point of view, the terrorism charge on misogynistic crime communicates the Canadian government is concerned with all mobilization of violence across the ideological spectrum.
“There has been a push amongst some community activists, like Muslim community activists, that it kind of feels like the entire national security apparatus in Canada has kind of mobilized against one community and one kind of violence and one type of violence,” the terrorism expert explained.
It’s still early to tell if and how investigations will change, he said.