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Study finds white supremacist groups are on the rise in Canada

SFU research notes an uptick in radical activity following arrival of Syrian refugees

Police encounter white supremacist protesters in a 2011 rally in downtown Calgary. - Photo courtesy of The Canadian Press/Larry MacDougal
Police encounter white supremacist protesters in a 2011 rally in downtown Calgary. - Photo courtesy of The Canadian Press/Larry MacDougal

To many Canadians, the face of violent white supremacy wears the hood of the Klu Klux Klan and lives somewhere in the southern United States, or perhaps even in the past. However, a recent study co-authored by SFU criminology PhD candidate Ryan Scrivens and University of Ontario professor Dr. Barbara Perry suggests otherwise.

Their research, published in the report “Uneasy Alliances: A Look at the Right-Wing Extremist Movement in Canada” for Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, is one of few studies on the subject. The report characterizes right-wing extremism as white supremacy, racism, xenophobia, anti-semitism, homophobia, and transphobia expressed through hate speech, vandalism, and violence including assault and homicide.

Just over a thousand hate-motivated crimes are reported every year, and Scrivens asserted that many can be attributed to right-wing extremists. He says that although the threat is hard to quantify, it cannot be overlooked: “Are they [right-wing extremists] more of a threat than ISIS? We don’t know. But historically, they have done a lot more damage. If you take a look in the last 20 years alone, there’s been hundreds of incidents. [. . .] They may not be a threat to national security, but they are a threat to the community.”

Scrivens noted that the rise in right-wing extremist activity has corresponded with the recent influx of Syrian refugees. In the past few months alone, a mosque in Peterborough, Ontario was set on fire, a group of Syrian refugees were pepper sprayed at welcome event in Vancouver, and statements such as “Go Home Syrians” and “Kill Refugees” have been spray painted onto cars and school walls in Calgary.

According to the study, the main demographic of right-wing extremism in Canada is younger white men, typically coming from lower income and often violent backgrounds. These men are often known to the police for reasons outside of extremist activity. They may operate alone or in groups such as Blood & Honour, and PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West).

Often mobilizing on the Internet and through white power music, these groups are often disorganized and face a lot of infighting, and local groups may disperse when a leader is arrested. Nevertheless, they see themselves as maintaining or restoring social order, and flourish in areas where they are tolerated — that is, in smaller, majority white communities where they are unlikely to face direct or organized opposition.

In bigger and more diverse cities, their protests are often met with counter-protests by organizations such as Anti-Racist Canada and No One Is Illegal. In March of 2015, PEGIDA Montreal cancelled their rally after hundreds showed up to a counter-protest.

However, there are some more “moderate” extremists who are getting into municipal politics. In 2014, several areas in Ontario, including Minden, Oshawa, Mississauga, and Toronto, saw mayoral bids from former members and leaders of neo-Nazi and anti-immigrant groups such as the Edmund Burke Society. Although they have not been particularly successful, they are steering conversations and showing a presence.

Scrivens argued that this “spreads hate and it almost legitimizes it. It makes hate mainstream. It almost says that this type of language and ideology is tolerated. It normalizes hate.”

  • Jenny Hill

    Do you even know what Pegida is?