A deadly mass shooting in the United States over the weekend has heightened concerns about anti-Black racism and hate crime in Canada, with Canadian government officials and experts calling for stricter measures to clamp down on extreme white supremacist groups.
The bloodshed in Buffalo has highlighted racism south of the border, but similar hatred exists in Canada as well, Canadian MPs say.
“What our American friends should know is that they are not alone, that Canada is not immune from these challenges,” said Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino.
“So we have to do more to eliminate gun violence, and we also have to do more to eradicate racism, which has no place in our society,” he told Global News in Ottawa on Monday.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said even though Canada has more stringent gun laws and lower gun holding than the U.S., he was worried about threats on Canadian soil.
“White supremacist extreme groups are the biggest domestic terrorist threat in this country, and we still make excuses for them. So I think that’s a challenge we need to be focusing on every day,” he told Global News.
Hate crime in Canada
Police-reported data shows hate crimes are on the rise in Canada.
According to a Statistics Canada report released in March, there was a 37-per cent increase in hate crimes across the country during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Black and Jewish people were the most targeted groups, representing 26 per cent and 13 per cent of all hate crimes, respectively, StatCan reported.
Since 2014, seven attacks on Canadian soil have killed 26 people and wounded 40 others due to ideologically motivated violent extremism, according to the most recent report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) published in March.
Right-wing extremism and terrorism is an international movement that includes groups in Canada, said Mubin Shaikh, a counter-extremism specialist and professor of public safety at Seneca College.
“Canada’s far, far better than any other context, but … we still have trash in our yard as well,” he told Global News.
Barbara Perry, a researcher with the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security, and Society, said there has been a “really dramatic increase” in far-right activism since 2015.
She said her team has identified 300 active right-wing hate groups in Canada, but there are likely tens of thousands of more people drawn to the movement without being affiliated with a group.
“This is the really frightening thing and, I think, surprising thing is that proportionately, if we just talk about the number of groups, it’s very similar to the U.S.”
Some organizers of the so-called “Freedom Convoy” that paralyzed the nation’s capital for three weeks have well-documented ties to white supremacists, and there were multiple instances of Nazi flags, Confederate flags and Canadian flags marred by swastikas flown by individuals in the crowd during the demonstrations.
Meanwhile, there are growing concerns about Islamophobia, anti-Muslim hate crimes and discrimination in light of recent events in Ontario and Quebec.
In June 2021, a man intentionally rammed his truck at a Pakistani Muslim family in London, Ont., while they were out for an evening walk, killing four members of the family. A nine-year-old boy was the lone survivor.
In January 2017, six men were killed and 19 others seriously injured in a shooting at mosque in Quebec City.
The 'great replacement theory'
The “great replacement theory” is believed to be a motive in the Buffalo shooting.
It is a racist and antisemitic conspiracy theory about a plot to diminish the influence of white people through immigration.
The theory’s more racist adherents believe Jews are behind the so-called replacement plan.
Ottawa convoy organizer Pat King has espoused that theory in past videos posted online.
In 2021, Canada experienced another record-setting year for antisemitic incidents, with over 733 per cent increase of violent incidents, according to a recent report by Jewish advocacy group B’nai Brith Canada.
In 2020, Jews were the biggest target of hate crimes against religious minorities in the country, StatCan reported.
Marvin Rotrand, national director of B’nai Brith’s League of Human Rights, said the government needs to step up to the plate.
“Clearly, Canada’s got to look at hate online and how it can better regulate that,” he told Global News.
The Liberals tabled Bill C-36, an anti-hate law, at the tail end of the last Parliament in June 2021, but that died when the federal election was called two months later.
Rotrand said Canada is falling behind European countries when it comes to hate laws.
“We can’t sit back and say ‘we’re different than the United States, we’re not going to have the same thing happen here,'” he said. “It could happen here and … we need to be vigilant.”
CSIS says it is boosting resources dedicated to investigating and analyzing ideologically motivated violent extremist threats.
Speaking at the University of British Columbia earlier this month, CSIS director David Vigneault warned the combination of major disruptive events like the COVID-19 pandemic, the ever-increasing influence of social media and the spread of conspiracy theories has created an environment open to exploitation by influencers and extremists.
In the House of Commons on Monday, NDP MP Peter Julien introduced a unanimous consent motion to condemn the Buffalo shooter, extend condolences to the victims, and reaffirm commitment to confront racism and white supremacy. This was followed by a moment of silence.
While that was a symbolic gesture, MPs admit stronger measures are needed to tackle the root cause of the problem.
“We have to take this more seriously than we ever have,” said Transport Minister Omar Alghabra.
— with files from David Baxter, The Associated Press and The Canadian Press