A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa on May 14, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Officials concerned if Canada is ‘able to effectively respond’ to right-wing extremism

CSIS says it is now looking at racially motivated, ethno-nationalist, anti-government or misogynist violence

Canadian security officials have been grappling not only with how to address the growing threat of right-wing extremism, but also the best means of defining the phenomenon and explaining it to the public, newly released documents show.

In a briefing for deputy ministers responsible for national security, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP openly asked whether, given the nature of the threat, the government of Canada was “able to effectively respond?”

The secret briefing was aimed at providing the senior officials with an overview of right-wing extremism in Canada and fostering discussion of “broader considerations” on dealing with the issue, says a heavily censored version of the April 2019 document, released through the Access to Information Act.

Ralph Goodale, public safety minister at the time, also received a briefing on the issue, an accompanying memo indicates.

CSIS, which has spent much of the last two decades investigating jihadi-inspired terrorism, said last year it was increasingly preoccupied by those looking to support or engage in violence that is racially motivated, ethno-nationalist, anti-government or misogynist in nature.

After the devastating New Zealand mosque shooting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last March that Canada had taken important steps to combat discrimination and hate.

“We have stepped up investigations into groups that spread hate propaganda, including white-supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. We have implemented significant gun-control reforms. We have increased funding to protect places of worship. We have also invested in programs that promote inclusion, build bridges between people and celebrate our diversity,” Trudeau told the House of Commons.

“Nevertheless, we know there is still a lot of work to do, but I want everyone to hear me when I say that we are going to do what needs to be done.”

READ MORE: Canada adds right-wing extremist groups to terrorist list for first time

Less than a month later, the briefing from security agencies asked:

— Are terms like “right-wing extremism” or “far right” accurate? “Do we need a broader conversation on how we understand and describe all types of ideologically motivated violence?”

— How should agencies articulate the threat to government officials and the Canadian public?

— At what point are these activities considered terrorism?

— How do federal officials help Canadians report violent extremist behaviour?

The internal briefing document notes that the investigation of hate crimes — offences involving elements such as propaganda, promotion of genocide and targeted vandalism — falls largely to local police forces, which in some communities is the RCMP.

National-security criminal investigations can be triggered when there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate a clear ideological basis and motivation for the act, the briefing added. But it cautioned: “Obtaining sufficient evidence to warrant a terrorism charge can be challenging.”

Authorities might be concerned the same problems that occasionally emerge in terrorism cases around being able to prosecute on the basis of a demonstrated “political religious or ideological motivation” may also occur with right-wing extremism cases, said Wesley Wark, a University of Ottawa security and intelligence expert.

That concern is likely to fade should right-wing extremism in Canada begin to reveal genuine connections with overseas movements and doctrines, he said.

Closing any gaps between local police, the RCMP and CSIS could be achieved by ensuring that existing Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams, which include players from various agencies, are “fully seized” with the far-right threat, Wark added.

The briefing mentions a proposal to include, for the first time, right-wing extremist groups on the national list of terrorist organizations.

Blood & Honour, an international neo-Nazi network, and its armed branch, Combat 18, were indeed added to the roster last June, opening the door to stiff criminal sanctions. A group on Canada’s terrorist list may have their assets seized, and there are serious criminal penalties for helping listed organizations carry out extremist activities.

In the briefing, the RCMP also flagged efforts to create awareness of right-wing extremism through community outreach activities and developing partnerships.

The force noted its program on terrorism awareness for emergency personnel — often the first ones at a crime scene — now includes a segment on the far right.

Wark said this would be “a recent development and is a good sign.”

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City gives no response to homelessness concerns

City demands shelter close, but no response to pleas from shelter to open Jim Ciccone Civic Centre

Landlords are panicked

Risk is real for April rent and greater challenges are foreshadowed for May

Parade of welcome and love in Prince Rupert

Friends welcome new baby in drive by visit

Wage Subsidy up to 75 per cent announced

Businesses who have had a 30 per cent decrease can apply

B.C. couple celebrates 61st anniversary through seniors’ home window

Frank and Rena Phillips marked occasion at Nanaimo Seniors Village this week while social distancing

A look at some of the B.C. inventors creating life-saving tools in fight against COVID-19

Groups across B.C. are working together to create what they hope will help people affected by the pandemic

Association launches French-language games, online tools for families learning at home

Games, culture and vocabulary included in new virtual resources

‘There can be no ambiguity’: Travellers brought home to B.C. must self-isolate

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the mandatory isolation must be abided by

55+ BC Games cancelled amid COVID-19 concerns

Greater Victoria set to host 2021 event

BC Hydro offers three-month bill ‘holiday’ for those affected by COVID-19

Industrial customers can defer half of their power bills

Some April Fool’s Day jokes bring much-needed laughter; others tone deaf to COVID-19

Police are warning the public not to use the ongoing pandemic as a punchline

Canada’s 75% wage subsidy is coming, but not for several weeks: finance minister

Subsidy will cost Canada $71 billion, but push down cost of emergency benefit, Morneau said

Call before you dig into spring projects during isolation: BC 1 Call

BC 1 Call gives free checks for utilities in the area of a desired outdoor project

Most Read