New report identifies 7 extremist groups of threat to Alberta, offers recommendations to combat hate

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Recent studies conducted by the Organization for the Prevention of Violence (OPV) indicate a significant increase in reported hate crimes in Alberta and provide recommendations on combating such violence.

A recently released OPV report entitled “Extremism and Hate-Motivated Violence in Alberta” indicates a 78 per cent increase in hate crimes reported to police from 2014 to 2017.

READ MORE: Alberta and Edmonton see highest rise in reported hate crimes in Canada

To better understand some of the issues surrounding hate crimes, OPV conducted research in Alberta around the topics of hate, extremism and violent extremism. The organization said it interviewed 350 informed Albertans, including police officers, community leaders, social workers and individuals impacted by violent extremism.

“The evidence collected during these activities will aid Albertans not only in understanding the nature of threats and hazards we face but also to identify solutions to critical issues,” the report reads.

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The study suggested there is an increasing concern in the province about the impacts of hate, extremism and terrorism, noting a 2017 survey that found terrorism ranked as the top fear for Albertans — ranking higher than concerns such as being a victim of a violent crime.

READ MORE: Hate crimes against Muslims in Canada increase 253% over four years

The organization said an increasingly polarized social climate was apparent among members of every community it interviewed.

“As seen in the OPV’s research on hate, there was near unanimity in the belief that things are getting worse, not better, due in part to this global political climate where expression of discrimination, hate and broader ‘us versus them’ narratives are taking hold,” the report reads.

“Respondents were dismayed to see this occurring in Canada, a nation whose identity is in large part constructed on the basis of immigration and multiculturalism.”

Researchers said they were informed by law enforcement that former Alberta premier Rachel Notley faced at least 11 serious death threats since taking office in 2015, “although the actual number of threats is significantly greater.”

Several of the cases resulted in criminal charges being laid against individuals, according to the study.

Researchers said officers noted the frequency of threats against Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was significantly higher compared to their predecessors.

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The study identified a “diversity of threats” in Alberta, examining seven “typologies”: al-Qaida, anti-authority movements, ethno-nationlist movements, far-left movements, patriot groups, single-issue movements and white supremacy.

Specific primary active groups within the “typologies” that are identifiable, organized and semi-organized networks in Alberta include:

  • Al-Qaida, affiliates and splinter groups: ISIS, Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda
  • Anti-authority: Freemen on the Land and Sovereign Citizens
  • Far-left extremism: Antifa (anti-fascist) and anarchists
  • Patriot groups: Three Percenters, Sons/Soldiers of Odin, Canadian Infidels/The Clann, True North Patriots and Northern Guard
  • White supremacy movement: Blood and Honour, Combat-18, Identitarian Movement/Ethnonationalism and Christian Identity

LISTEN: OPV senior researcher David Jones joins Rob Breakenridge to discuss the report on extremists in Alberta

The researchers looked at the ideas, composition and historical and contemporary activities of each such group in Alberta.

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“The goal and importance of the assessments are two-fold. First, they clearly demonstrate the diversity of ideologies and types of movements that can generate extremism and violent extremism in the province,” the report read. “Second, the assessments contribute to public knowledge and awareness of issues that are often mischaracterized and misunderstood, for example, through social and mainstream media.”

OPV said al-Qaida, its affiliates and splinter groups — referred to as AQAS in the report — have continued to pose a direct threat in Canada despite international counterterrorism efforts. The organization’s report includes the 2017 Edmonton attack in which Abdulahi Hasan Sharif has been accused of attempting to kill a police officer and running down pedestrians as an example of the terrorist organization being able to inspire like-minded individuals to carry out violent attacks in Canada and Alberta.

READ MORE: Edmonton police respond as Yellow Vest rally, counter-protest turns violent

However, OPV said it must be recognized that a majority of mass-casualty terrorist attacks in Canada have not originated from AQAS since the 1990s and that white supremacists and the incel movement also have the potential to carry out mass-casualty attacks.

The report also indicated the emergence of the Yellow Vest movement could have a significant impact on the future of the patriot and militia movements in Alberta. The Yellow Vest movement has re-energized areas of activism and engaged a broader set of individuals, “some of whom may now gravitate towards more organized patriot or militia groups,” the study reads.

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OPV noted the group is actively seeking new recruits.

“The shift from individual groups to a more amorphous and somewhat mainstream ‘movement’ increases the probability of sustained and engaged activity among local patriot and militia groups,” the report adds.

READ MORE: Alberta creating provincial unit to fight hate crimes and extremism

The study also indicated that traditional white-power groups have declined in the province, but white nationalist and identitarian groups have increased in popularity under more “articulate and clean-cut leadership.”

“As educated and well-dressed white supremacists with trendy haircuts, suits and designer clothing, the newest generation of the broader movement has outwardly sanitized its appearance and the language it uses to spread its racism and bigotry,” the report reads.

The report identified Calgary and surrounding areas as having the most white supremacist activity in the province, but it is noted that membership in key regions like southern Alberta and Calgary as well as membership in established groups like Blood and Honour and Combat 18 have declined by 50 per cent or more.

The report said Alberta has so far been spared of organized terrorist attacks associated with white supremacy, with violence tending to be random and fuelled by the culture and behaviour of the movement.

Overall, the research indicated Alberta lacks sufficient awareness, training and capacity to combat hate, including agencies and programs that lack the educational resources, training and co-ordination.

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The report recommends:

  • Formalization of inter-agency collaboration through the provincial government
  • Providing resources to grassroots and community-based agencies, as well as prevention and intervention efforts that have “buy in” within impacted communities, i.e., youth mentorship programs, social work outreach and culturally relevant mental health supports
  • Workshops and training for stakeholders who can detect and direct those impacted by extremism and violent extremism
  • Adapt internationally recognized best practices to local standards and needs, which are recognized as good practice by community members and established service providers in Alberta
  • Identify and integrate youth, women, mothers and community members into all areas of program development delivery

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