The federal government is working to determine whether the Proud Boys should be formally designated as a terrorist organization.
“As Minister Blair has said, we strongly denounce ‘ideologically motivated extremists including groups like the Proud Boys, white supremacists, anti-Semitics, Islamaphobic and misogynist groups,'” Mary-Liz Power, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told Global News. “Intolerance and hate have no place in our society.”
Power said national security and law enforcement agencies are “very actively engaged in monitoring the activities of these groups, and gathering the evidence required to support a determination of listing as a Terrorist Organization.”
If the Proud Boys are designated as a terrorist organization by the federal government the group would be joining a long list of other entities including the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and the Islamic State.
Terrorist designations “are not political exercises,” Power said.
“They involve a legal process requiring evidence and intelligence,” she said. “Such listings send a strong message that Canada will not tolerate such acts of violence.”
Power said listing a group as a terror organization can “help support possible criminal investigations and the prosecutions of those offences.”
“When an entity is placed on the list, financial institutions freeze its assets and it becomes a crime to knowingly deal with the assets of a listed entity,” she explained.
The comments come days after thousands of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building, sending hundreds of lawmakers, staffers and journalists fleeing and leaving five people, including a police officer dead.
The building was placed on lockdown as rioters sought to disrupt congressional certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory.
Photos from Wednesday’s protest show a number of prominent right-wing groups took part, including the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters militia group. Well-known followers of QAnon conspiracy theories were also in attendance.
The FBI is now investigating, and has put a call out to the public seeking help in identifying those responsible for the violence.
Some who were caught on camera during the storming of the Capitol have since been arrested, with dozens of people now facing charges.
Members of the Proud Boys — founded by Canadian Gavin McInnes in 2016– were also in attendance at many of Black Lives Matter protests across the country last summer.
Its members have been involved in violence, like on Dec. 13, when at least four people were stabbed during an election protest in Washington, D.C., or back in August when Proud Boys and counter-protesters clashed in Michigan.
The Proud Boys were thrust back into the spotlight late last year during the first presidential debate. When asked to condemn white supremacist groups, Trump told its members to “stand back and stand by.”
On Tuesday, Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the organization, was arrested in Washington D.C., for destruction of property and possession of a firearm magazine.
He was released, but was ordered to stay away from the city, according to a court document.
Kent Roach a professor of law and Prichard-Wilson Chair of Law and Public Policy at the University of Toronto, said designating the Proud Boys as a terrorist organization would be “a start,” but that “it has to be backed up by credible enforcement actions.”
“I think that Canadians should know that unless, you know, there are proper investigations or programs to counter violent extremism, that there’s not a kind of magic button that you push by designating a group and it suddenly makes them go away,” he said.
Roach said Canada’s track record on prosecuting far-right violence and terrorism is “pretty bad — as bad as the United States.”
“That’s why I would be skeptical that simply designating them would do a lot of work,” he said.
Asked what else should be done, Roach said if the proper thresholds are met, CSIS or the RCMP should conduct national security investigations into these groups.
“The whole purpose of terrorism offences is to try to enable prosecutions before there are actual acts of violence,” he said. “We can also consider that when there are acts of violence, are there grounds for laying terrorism charges in addition to other criminal charges that may be available?”
Roach also said Canada has powers to delete terrorist and hate propaganda from the internet, but said the government has mostly relied on social media companies to do so.
“So, you know, it seems to me that a well thought out, targeted enforcement measure would probably be better than simply adding, you know, a fairly odious group to what is already a very long list of terrorist organizations,” he said.
An ‘assault on democracy’
Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the incident at the Capitol an “assault on democracy by violent rioters, incited by the current president and other politicians.”
“Violence has no place in our societies and extremists will not succeed in overruling the will of the people,” he said.
Trudeau said we “must always work to secure our democracy, and not give comfort to those who promote things that are not true or give space for hatred or extremism.”
Meanwhile, the NDP launched an online petition on Thursday, calling on the Liberals to “immediately ban and designate the Proud Boys as a terrorist organization.”
“Yesterday was an act of domestic terrorism,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in a tweet. “The Proud Boys helped execute it.
“Their founder is Canadian,” he continued. “They operate in Canada right now.”
In a statement emailed to Global News, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said his party has “consistently stood against terrorism and extremism wherever it is found and whatever its motivation.”
“We will always support measures to keep Canadians safe from the threat of terror acts including from any group motivated by white supremacy,” he said in the statement. “Conservatives support the listing of various white supremacist groups as terrorist organizations.”
-With files from Global News’ David Lao and Reuters