OTTAWA — As the Trudeau government ponders adding more right-wing groups to a federal terrorism blacklist, long-standing opponents of the process are urging officials to find more democratic and transparent means to address neo-fascism and white nationalism.
Groups on Canada's roster of terrorist entities, created following the 9-11 attacks on the United States, can have their assets seized and there are serious criminal penalties for helping listed organizations carry out extremist activities.
The federal government placed two right-wing extremist groups, Blood & Honour, an international neo-Nazi network, and its armed branch, Combat 18, on the list in 2019. They joined more than 50 other listed organizations including al-Qaida, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Boko Haram and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
The storming of Capitol Hill in Washington by right-wing extremists earlier this month has spurred calls for Canada to add groups such as the Proud Boys and The Base to its terror list. Public Safety Canada says it is marshalling evidence with an eye to doing just that.
MPs ratcheted up the pressure by passing a motion in the House of Commons calling on the government to use all available tools to address the proliferation of white supremacists and hate groups starting with immediate designation of the Proud Boys as a terrorist entity.
The Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group says it is imperative that the Liberal government take concrete steps to counter hate and violence, but it stresses the terror list is a "deeply problematic" provision that undermines basic principles of justice.
In a lengthy statement, the national coalition of dozens of civil society organizations noted the federal listing process takes place in secret, based on advice from security agencies.
"Groups who are added are not informed in advance, nor given the chance to address the accusations levelled against them," the coalition said. "Only once a group is added does the listing become public, and they are in a position to challenge their listing."
Even then, a group is not granted access to all the information used against it, which can be withheld based on several exceptions — including national security grounds — making it "incredibly difficult" to mount a defence, the civil liberties coalition added.
Ottawa lawyer Yavar Hameed went to court on behalf of the Canadian branch of the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy, known as IRFAN-Canada, after it was added to the list in 2014.
The government said that between 2005 and 2009 the organization transferred about $14.6 million worth of resources to various organizations with links to Hamas.
While the attorney general can authorize specific transactions by a listed group, it refused to allow IRFAN-Canada to raise funds to pay legal fees, Hameed said.
"Ultimately, this crippled the ability of the charity to maintain its delisting application and to challenge the constitutionality of the listing provisions themselves."
It also meant that all donations ceased, as contributing to the charity would make donors liable to criminal prosecution, Hameed said.
"In turn, the listing caused a chilling effect within Muslim communities throughout Canada as the threat of legal prosecution forced donors to completely disassociate themselves from any link with the charity."
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who spearheaded the House motion on white hate groups, disputed the notion the terror list could harm religious minorities or racialized groups.
Systemic racism means policing resources have been devoted to people who are not causing any problems, while others who do pose a threat have been allowed to act with impunity, he said in an interview.
Singh called for a realignment of "the limited resources we have with who's really causing a threat to security, and that's white supremacists and extreme right-wing groups."
Hameed says any broadening of the national security state in ways that fundamentally circumvent procedural fairness and basic constitutional safeguards is dangerous.
"Ultimately, the more that we laud and sabre-rattle about the necessity of listing entities under the Criminal Code, the more that the regime becomes strengthened," he said.
"Criticism becomes muted and a perception grows that listing is the appropriate response that will make Canadians safer."
It is easier said than done, but Canada can use other tools in the Criminal Code to protect safety and address organized violence, the civil liberties monitoring coalition says.
"We need lawmakers to have the political will and courage to devote the resources necessary to take on these groups, and counter violence and hate in general."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2021.
—With files from Christopher Reynolds
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press