The federal government is adding 13 new extremist groups, including the Proud Boys, to the Criminal Code list of terrorist entities, freezing their assets and opening up people who are affiliated with them to criminal sanctions.

The move is a major step towards combatting ideologically-motivated extremist sentiment in Canada, and officials suggested Canada is the first country to make the decision to label the Proud Boys as a serious terror threat.

In addition to several al Qaeda and Daesh affiliates as well as one new international terror group being added to the list, the federal government is moving to list four ideologically motivated violent extremist (IMVE) organizations.

They are:

  • Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group founded in the U.S. in 2013 that was present at the 2017 Charlottesville rally;
  • Russian Imperial Movement, a nationalist group that trained those who bombed a left-wing bookstore and asylum facilities in Sweden in 2016;
  • Proud Boys, a neo-fascist group founded by a Canadian and formed in 2016 that, according to the government, played “a pivotal role” in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6; and
  • The Base, a neo-Nazi group founded in 2018, primarily active in the U.S., and whose members plotted to carry out attacks at a January rally in Virginia.

All four of these groups have called for, or engaged in acts of violence against those who are perceived to be opposed to their ideological beliefs, says the government.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced the move on Wednesday, highlighting the safety and security concerns these extremist groups raise for Canadians.

"This update hopefully sends a strong message that Canada will not tolerate ideological, religious or politically-motivated acts of violence," Blair said.

The decision also brings a range of “significant” legal and financial implications for people participating in or who are otherwise affiliated with these groups. Specifically, the Criminal Code includes charges for people or organizations that deal with property or finances of a listed entity. It also criminalizes certain supporting activities such as training and recruitment. These charges could be laid on a going-forward basis and cannot apply to past actions.

For example, any future purchasing Proud Boys merchandise from the group could now be considered a criminal act in this country, though belonging without any financial ties to a group is not illegal.

Further, anyone looking to enter Canada may not be allowed in if they are found to be associated with a listed group, and Blair can revoke the passports of anyone deemed to pose a threat to travel to engage in terrorist activities.

“Behaviour becomes a threat when people advocate or engage in violence as a means of promoting or furthering their ideology,” said one senior government official briefing reporters on a not-for-attribution basis.

In line with the new label as terrorist entities, steps are also being taken to remove any online content from these entities.

In addition to the IMVE groups, the government has also added the following al Qaeda affiliates to the list: Ansar Dine; Front de Libération du Macina; and Jama’at Nusrat Al-Islam Wal-Muslimin. The government is also adding five new Islamic State affiliates based in Bangladesh; East Asia; the Greater Sahara; Libya; and the West Africa Province.

As well, one international terror group has joined the list: Hizbul Mujahideen, which was formed in 1989 as a militant Kashmiri liberation group.

The government says it has recently reviewed seven other organizations currently on the list in line with a legal requirement to do so, and it was determined all six groups remained a threat and so it was warranted to continue listing them.

“Based on their actions and ideologies, each group meets the legal threshold for listing as set out in the Criminal Code, which requires reasonable grounds to believe that an entity has knowingly participated in or facilitated a terrorist activity, or has knowingly acted on behalf of, at the direction of, or in association with such an entity,” said the government in briefing materials provided to reporters in advance of Blair’s press conference.

GROWING THREAT OF EXTREMIST VIOLENCE

These extremist organizations newly added to the terrorist list join the ranks of Boko Haram and the Taliban, among many others. There are now a total of 73 terrorist entities on Canada’s list. Wednesday’s update is the first time new names have been added since 2019, when International neo-Nazi network Blood & Honour and its armed affiliate Combat 18, were added to the roster.

In making the announcement the government emphasized that federal intelligence agencies consider ideologically-motivated violent extremism a “growing threat,” and countering the online component of these organizations remains a “complex and ever-evolving issue.”

While generally considered “right-wing” groups, the federal government has sought to move away from that descriptor, stating it and “left-wing” are largely subjective and do not capture the complexity of the threat posed.

The classification of IMVE groups includes racially-motivated and ethno-nationalist violence, anti-authority violence, gender-driven violence like the Incel movement, and other grievance-driven violence. The government differentiates these groups from those who espouse religiously-motivated violent extremism or politically-motivated violent extremism.

In January, Blair first signalled in an interview on CTV’s Question Period that new additions to Canada’s list of recognized terrorist organizations could be coming.

Blair said at the time that Canadian national security officials were actively gathering intelligence about white supremacist and other extremist hate groups on an ongoing basis.

PROUD BOYS’ CANADIAN ROOTS

Started by Canadian and former VICE Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, the Proud Boys are a far-right organization that prides itself on “neo-chauvinism” and their core belief in “anti-political correctness.”

Although the group has denied any affiliation with far-right rhetoric in the past, it has been increasingly violent in the wake of Donald Trump’s election in 2016.

The group has “openly encouraged, planned, and conducted violent activities against those they perceive to be opposed to their ideology and political beliefs,” according to federal officials, who also acknowledged that no members of the group have been charged with terrorism offenses to date.

Trump’s infamously told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020.

Attention on the organization has been heightened following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, where participants were seen clearly in footage and on social media sporting Proud Boy colours, patches, flags and apparel affiliated with the group.

There are chapters of the group across Canada, and the labelling of the organization as a terrorist entity could have future implications for its Canadian members.

According to the government’s description of the organization published on Wednesday, “members of the group espouse misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, and/or white supremacist ideologies and associate with white supremacist groups.”

While Blair could not provide specific intelligence gathered that led to the inclusion of the Proud Boys on the terror list, he said federal security officials have been monitoring its activities for some time and has seen “an escalation,” like acquiring weapons and engaging in criminal actions.

The minister said that while freedom of speech and freedom of association remain rights, “there is a threshold” where it becomes terrorism.

“There is a trove of evidence that has become available to us through the work of our law enforcement and security officials, but also the Americans, that really demonstrates the criminal intent, the violent criminal intent to engage in violent insurrection but also targeting individuals, targeting politicians for violent acts, all of which crosses that threshold where we believe it's necessary and appropriate to list them as a terrorist entity,” Blair said in an interview on CTV’s Power Play.

SEPARATE FROM HOUSE MOTION

In the wake of the U.S. Capitol attacks, the federal government has faced calls to reassess the domestic terror threat and on Jan. 25, on the proposal of NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, members of Parliament unanimously agreed to call on the federal government to declare the Proud Boys a “terrorist entity.”

The motion called on the government to “use all available tools to address the proliferation of white supremacists and hate groups,” however the decision on who is, or isn’t declared a terrorist group, is not one for politicians to make.

As officials emphasized on Wednesday, the decision was based on the intelligence Canada’s federal agencies have gathered. As the process works, the 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.

During the briefing on the decision, a federal official told reporters that the listing of these 13 entities was an action taken “very much aside” from the parliamentary motion.

Reacting to the announcement, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he was pleased with the move as he thinks it will have “real impacts” on the Proud Boys networks in Canada, but called for a further dismantling of all white supremacist and extreme right-wing groups in Canada.

“We need to build a country where everyone feels like they belong and those types of hateful groups have no place in this country,” he said. “What this, I hope, does is have a chilling effect on these groups.”

In a statement, Conservative public safety critic Shannon Stubbs questioned why Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has not been deemed a terrorist entity, after parliamentarians have called for them to be added for years.

“The Trudeau Liberals have been soft on extremism… Canada must stand against terrorism wherever it is found and whatever its motivation,” Stubbs said.

In a statement the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group expressed concerns about using terrorism laws to combat hate-based violence, stating that it’s been criticized by civil liberties organizations, and racial justice advocates for “threatening the fundamental rights of Canadians.”

Officials cautioned that not all extremist actions in Canada will meet the threshold for making the terrorist list and other efforts are being taken to combat the threat this “toxic rhetoric” can pose, such as the amplification of conspiracy theories. For example, CSIS says it has shifted its resources to better focus on the ongoing threat posed by IMVE groups.

Entities have the ability to apply to challenge their listing, and can take the matter to Federal Court.

With files from CTV News’ Christy Somos