Ever since the storming of the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, the Canadian right-wing extremist group the Proud Boys has quickly come under heavy, international scrutiny. On Jan. 10, the Government of Canada considered labelling them a terrorist organization. The federal government said they will be investigating the group although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn’t spoken on the topic.
The Proud Boys were founded by Gavin McInnes, a Canadian-British right-wing activist. The group is conservative and consists only of men that are almost all white. The group is also pro-gun, believes in traditional gender roles and believes in ‘Trumpian ideas.’ The group has also had violent clashes with left-wing activists in Oregon and New York.
Laura Levick, a political science professor at STU, said that Canadians assume far-right extremism and systemic racism are American problems.
“I think the concept of terrorism really became deeply racialized, especially in the wake of the September 11 attacks,” she said.
Levick said because there haven’t been any major attacks in Canada doesn’t mean its people are safe from them, which she is concerned about. She said Canadians may think of terrorism as blowing something up or storming the Capitol.
“But that doesn’t mean that there’s no threat,” she said.
Levick said she believes Canadian society needs to take a look at what it considers terrorism and ask why it thinks that way.
“I think people should be questioning their assumptions about what they think terrorism looks like […] [we shouldn’t just] assume that this kind of thing can never happen in Canada.”
Kiefer Sullivan, a first-year University of New Brunswick Saint John student, said Canada and its neighbour south of the border share similar political climates.
“[The Proud Boys] can do things and get away with it because nobody’s watching,” said Sullivan. “The problem isn’t that it’s a terrorist organization. It’s a white terror organization and that means fewer people are willing to challenge it.
Stephanie Clowater, a first-year St. Thomas University student from the U.S., said Canada putting the Proud Boys on a list of terrorist groups will help combat the group by dealing out serious legal repercussions for supporters of the group.
Clowater said she’s not surprised by how the group has originated in Canada.
“It’s a real black eye for Canada,” she said. “There’s been a clear undertone of that same far-right extremist mentality that they have in the United States here, it just isn’t as predominant or mainstream.”
Clowater said she worries about the normalization of these actions.
“You’ve got moderate, mainstream people who are excusing their type of behaviour and ideology using the excuse of freedom of speech and freedom of expression to legitimize hate.”
Matt Dinan, an associate professor in the Great Books department at STU, said terrorist organizations use coordinated violence to threaten democratic governments.
“The events of January 6th were a coordinated use of violence to undermine the legitimacy of a democratic government,” he said.
Dinan said that it shouldn’t be controversial that the Proud Boys are now being viewed as a terrorist organization.
“They’re showing us that that’s what they are. So they should be treated that way.”