It is a rare occurrence when an NDP leader makes a suggestion and the Liberals and Conservatives leap to agree with him. But that’s what happened when, in the wake of the Washington insurrection, Jagmeet Singh suggested the government list the far-right group Proud Boys as a terrorist entity.
Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole were quick to say Singh’s idea sounded like a good one.
But is it?
Proud Boys is a misogynist, white supremacist, borderline neo-fascist group. During one of the U.S. presidential debates Democrat Joe Biden invited Donald Trump to condemn Proud Boys. Trump said: “Proud Boys stand by and stand back.” Via social media, the extreme-right group took that to be an endorsement rather than a condemnation.
The founder of Proud Boys, Gavin McInnes, is a Canadian, and there is a Canadian branch of the group. (By the way, McInnes is also one of the founders of the Vice media empire, once based in Canada, now headquartered in the U.S.)
It is not a crime for an entity to be listed as terrorist in Canada, but the designation does have consequences. For instance, the authorities could seize a listed entity’s property. Or they could force the terrorist-listed group to forfeit some or all of its assets.
The government currently lists 56 terrorist entities. The vast majority of groups on the list are, at least nominally, Islamic. There are also a few Sikh groups, a Basque entity, a Kurdish group, a few revolutionary Latin-American groups, and a couple of Tamil organizations.
There is only one white-supremacist, far-right group listed. It is Blood and Honour, “an international neo-Nazi network.” This group has an armed branch, Combat 18, which has “carried out violent actions.” Those include the murder of two homeless men in Florida and the firebombing of a building occupied by Roma children, men and women in the Czech Republic.
The only other similar group listed is Kahane Chai or Kach, successor to the often-violent Jewish Defense League, founded by the late Meir Kahane.
A big note of caution
The fact that Canada’s anti-terrorism efforts are overwhelmingly focused on Muslims and people of colour gives Harsha Walia, executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, pause when she considers Singh’s suggestion.
In a long post on Facebook, Walia explains why she disagrees with the NDP’s idea of using Canada’s anti-terrorism laws against white supremacists and neo-fascists.
“Terrorism, as well as sedition and insurrection, are all state-defined terms,” she writes. “… These are words most commonly deployed against those considered outside the state, and hence as threats to the state — e.g Indigenous, Black, Muslim, Arab, Sikh, anarchist, and left communities. It is oxymoronic to think that anti-terrorism can be deployed against white supremacists [who] are, in fact, deeply invested in white supremacy as nation-building.”
Walia believes it would be unwise for progressives to give any form of legitimacy to Canada’s anti-terrorism laws and enforcement apparatus, which, she emphasizes, are deployed almost exclusively against religious minorities, people of colour, and Indigenous groups and communities.
“To think that some kind of racial equality can be achieved in anti-terror legislation — [to] argue that as long as white supremacists are included within these laws and policies, then they are ‘okay’ — is essentially to give long-time cover to anti-terror and security legislation and funding and infrastructure, which will only then continue to expand and target oppressed communities and movements.”
NDP initiative motivated by what is achievable in parliamentary system
New Democrats have their own good reasons for proposing that Proud Boys, and possibly other groups, be listed as terrorist entities. In effect, the NDP is proposing a practical and feasible action to contain the threat of the violent far right, within the framework of the existing laws and security apparatus of Canada.
Doing so does not mean the NDP and its leader unequivocally support those laws or the habitual actions of Canada’s various police forces.
The NDP was the only party to oppose, and vote against, the Harper government’s anti-terrorism legislation. The Liberals subsequently amended that odious legislation. They did not scrap it entirely, as New Democrats had advocated.
Singh could also argue that if the security authorities were forced to shift their gaze away from their usual suspects, and focus more rigorously on white Canadian perpetrators of terror and hate, it might have salutary consequences all around.
It would be a lot better than doing nothing more than merely condemning extremism and violence with pious words.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Trudeau shuffled his cabinet, moving Montreal MP Marc Garneau to the key global affairs portfolio. Observers say this signals an election sooner rather than later this year. Earlier this week, the Hill Times reported that the prime minister had warned Liberal party officials to be prepared for a spring election.
As we pointed out in this space last week, there is no logical reason to hold an election so soon, less than two years after the previous one, in the midst of a virulent, worldwide pandemic. Sadly, political opportunism — the chance to win a majority — seems to be taking precedence over a sense of public duty.
Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble’s politics reporter.
Image credit: Jagmeet Singh/Facebook