Canada has named 13 new groups as terrorist organizations, including far-right extremists the Proud Boys.
Public Safety Canada listed the Proud Boys as an “ideologically motivated violent extremist group” along with neo-Nazi groups Atomwaffen Division and The Base, and Russia-based nationalist group the Russian Imperial Movement.
Three Al Qaida, five Islamic State affiliates and Islamist militant group Hizbul Majahideen were also added to the list.
“The threat of ideologically motivated extremism has been identified as the most significant threat to domestic security in Canada,” said Public Safety Minister Bill Blair at a news conference Wednesday.
The decision to designate Proud Boys a terrorist group comes after it played a role in the insurrection in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The group’s leader was arrested two days before the riots there and several other members were arrested in the following days.
Blair said there’s “overwhelming” evidence from the U.S. and the Five Eyes intelligence alliance that the Proud Boys’ activities met the threshold of a terrorist organization.
Law enforcement and intelligence agencies collect information on potential groups for months or sometimes years, which is then assessed by the Department of Justice and Minister of Public Safety.
“Over the past several months we have seen an escalation towards violence for this group,” Blair said. “People have actually gone out and acquired weapons and engaged in activities, which are now subject to criminal investigation and charges.”
Formed in 2016 by Canadian Gavin McInnes, the Proud Boys has chapters across the U.S. and Canada. The group has encouraged violence against those it perceives at opponents, such as Black Lives Matter supporters. Members have espoused misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant and white supremacist ideologies.
The FBI classified the Proud Boys as “an extremist group with ties to white nationalism” in 2018.
Last month, MPs unanimously voted that the Proud Boys should be considered a terrorist organization.
The decision was entirely a legal one, not a political one, said Blair.
“The events of Jan. 6. and the great public concern arising from that, not unsurprisingly initiated a political response,” he said.
“But this process of listing terrorist entity cannot be political. It has to be based entirely on evidence and intelligence. This is a legal decision with significant legal consequences.”
Canada’s move to designate the Proud Boys as a terrorist organization was brought up in Wednesday’s White House press briefing.
Days after his inauguration, President Joe Biden directed law enforcement and national intelligence officials to conduct a review of domestic violence extremism.
Press secretary Jen Psaki said she saw the news from Ottawa. The U.S. threat assessment is currently underway, she said, adding, “I expect we will wait for that review to conclude before we make any determinations.”
No terrorism charge has been laid against a member of the Proud Boys, but Canada’s threshold list groups as terrorist entities is more broad. Terrorism activity is defined under the criminal code as conspiring, attempting or threatening to commit terrorism or or counselling someone to do it.
Being on the list also doesn’t mean any members will be automatically charged with a crime, but if they do engage in violent acts, the RCMP or Canadian Security Intelligence Service can investigate and potentially lay terrorism charges.
A terrorist designation also means financial institutions are allowed to terminate or freeze members’ bank accounts. Canadian border authorities can also deny them entry. The Proud Boys’ ability to raise funds in Canada will also be severely restricted, said Blair.
Now, anyone who sends the Proud Boys money or buys their paraphernalia is committing an offence, officials said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters he thinks the designation will have real impacts.
“What this, I hope, does, is have a chilling effect on these groups,” Singh said. “They need to know that there is no place for hateful division designed to inspire violence against minority groups.”
The National Council of Canadian Muslims signalled its support for the designation of the Proud Boys and other far-right extremist groups as terrorist that have targeted their community.
The council pointed to the murder of Mohamed-Aslim Zafis last September.
Zafis was seated outside a Toronto Mosque when he was stabbed. The man charged in the killing was reportedly connected to white supremacy movements.
“We thank the government for listing these white supremacist groups,” the council said in a statement. “When we called for a bipartisan national action to dismantle white supremacy groups, we believed that this day would come.”
Watch: Proud Boys leader vows to ‘keep fighting’ after arrest. Story continues below.
The International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group — a coalition of 45 Canadian organizations — was critical of the government’s move. It sent a letter to Blair that said listing groups as terrorists is not the solution to end white supremacist violence.
Anti-terrorism laws threaten the fundamental rights of people in Canada and perpetrate xenophobia and Islamophobia, the letter said. There are other charges Canadian authorities could use to clamp down on hatred, such as participating in a criminal organization, doing mischief that causes danger to people’s lives or attacking official premises.
The group also warned that a dangerous precedent may have been set that could lead to future governments adding to the list groups working against their political interest, but for justice such as Indigenous and environmental organizations.
With files from Zi-Ann Lum.