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Kicked off Facebook, Canadian far-right groups resurface on the internet’s fringes

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WATCH: From ex-jihadists to former far-right radicals, a group of reformed extremists are about to publish a magazine that tells the stories of how they were deradicalized and educate others on how they fell victim to hatred.

On the social networking service VK, the Canadian Nationalist Front calls for a ban on “third world immigration,” Blood & Honour envisions “white victory” and photos show the Soldiers of Odin meeting in Calgary.

Canadian far-right groups purged from mainstream social media sites last year have found a new home on less discerning online platforms willing to host them and their racist views.

Although a crackdown that followed the March 15 attack on New Zealand mosques saw them purged from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, they have resurfaced on Russia’s VK, Gab and Canund.

But while their online presence hasn’t been stamped out, it has been significantly diminished, according to experts.

READ MORE: Facebook bans half-dozen Canadian pages under extremism, hate policy

“In some ways, this approach has worked,” said Canadian right-wing extremism expert Prof. Ryan Scrivens of the Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice.

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“It’s minimized their online presence and reach, and it’s disrupted their online networks and ability to attract the level of attention they once had on mainstream platforms.”

But it has also pushed them into “darker spaces of the internet,” where they can still attract followers, said Scrivens, whose research focuses on extremists’ use of the internet.

“Unfortunately, this is the best strategy we have right now for dealing with extremism online,” he said. “They shouldn’t be on mainstream platforms for laypeople to stumble across, but it’s clear that by removing them from these spaces, they’re bound to go somewhere else.”

Ex-Canadian reservist accused of neo-Nazi ties arrested in U.S.
Ex-Canadian reservist accused of neo-Nazi ties arrested in U.S.

Canada’s extreme right uses the internet “to create an online culture of fear, hatred and mistrust,” according to Canada’s 2018 annual Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada.

“Since 2014, Canadians motivated in whole or in part, by right-wing ideologies have killed 9 and wounded 21 on Canadian soil,” according to a section of the report that was cut prior to its publication but obtained by Global News under the Access to Information Act.

Under pressure following the New Zealand right-wing extremist attack that killed 51, Facebook took down a half-dozen Canadian far-right pages, citing its policies on extremist content and hate groups. Twitter followed suit the next day.

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The neo-Nazi groups Blood & Honour and Combat 18 were targeted two months later after the government added them to Canada’s list of designated terrorist organizations.

READ MORE: Neo-Nazi group Blood & Honour removed from Facebook after terrorist designation

Russia’s VK has become their fallback.

Kevin Goudreau and his Canadian Nationalist Front have VK pages and are also on white nationalist sites like Stormfront, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute’s White Supremacist Threat Monitor.

His VK page includes a proposal for members of Antifa to be “shackled and or shot (in the leg) on site,” according to MEMRI. “I need a machine gun,” he wrote in another post.

On various sites, he solicits donations and tries to recruit. But while MEMRI said he had managed to return to Facebook under an alias, the account no longer exists.

READ MORE: Ontario court imposes peace bond against far-right figure over online threats

His online output eroded further last August when Ottawa lawyer Richard Warman asked the Ontario court to impose a peace bond on Goudreau.

The court agreed with Warman and banned Goudreau from posting threats against anti-racism activists, including Warman.

A resident of Peterborough, Ont., Goudreau put a positive spin on the Facebook ban, claiming it had not had an impact.

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“I’m on many more platforms and dozens of platforms I didn’t even know existed,” he said.

He said it had forced him to do things the traditional way.

“I have closer contact by phone now and more meetings in person,” he said. “I get out there more and meet people more than I have in a decade; I love it, sort of a new lease on life. More positive outlook now, getting banned was a huge favour and boost for us.”

But Warman sees it as a step in the right direction.

“I think the idea isn’t to imagine you can ever completely de-platform a neo-Nazi like Goudreau because there will always be outliers like VK,” said the lawyer, who has long battled the online far right.

“I think the idea is simply to remove as much of the social media megaphone as possible by removing the main communication channels like FB, Twitter, etc.

“Playing whackamole is fine, and the big social media companies should, but how to dismantle the VKs of this world is something you could look at in combination.”

Stewart.Bell@globalnews.ca