Ineffective And Arbitrary: Why Canada Must Repeal The Listing Of Terrorist Groups


They wish to overthrow the United States government through attacks against civilians and infrastructure. They hope to acquire nuclear weapons and use them to obliterate their enemies. They believe that a global apocalypse is imminent and that a utopian society will emerge from the ashes. Such a society is only possible through “bulldozing bodies into mass graves.”

This is not ISIS. Rather, it is Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi terrorist group based in the United States. Just like ISIS, Atomwaffen Division does not hide its eagerness for mass violence. Yet, while ISIS is included on the Canadian government’s list of terrorist entities, Atomwaffen Division is not.

This double standard is due to the highly arbitrary choice of who is on Canada’s terrorist list. The Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness (PSEP) – not the judiciary – determines which groups are included. The decision is based less on threat assessments and more on political considerations. Consequently, the current list of terrorist groups disproportionately targets Islamic groups and excludes the far-right. For this reason, it must be repealed.

Listing was introduced in the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). In the listing process, security agencies provide information about a group to the Minister of PSEP. After reviewing the evidence, the Minister can recommend listing the group to the Governor in Council. If the Governor in Council believes the group is a terrorist group, it will add it to the listed terrorist entities. Under the Criminal Code, any individual who has financial relations with an entity can receive a maximum punishment of 10 years imprisonment or a fine of $100,000.

The role of the Minister of PSEP in the listing process makes it liable to political considerations. For example, the Liberal government of Paul Martin likely refused to add the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam due to electoral support from Tamils. Likewise, the Conservative government’s decision to label the World Tamil Movement as a terrorist group was likely done to make the government seem tough on terrorism prior to the 2008 election. For this reason, the current list of terrorist groups does not accurately represent threats to Canada’s security. Rather, the list reflects the political motivations of the current and previous governments.

With the War on Terror influencing public perceptions of security threats, governments are under pressure to respond to Islamic terrorism. Consequently, Islamic terrorist groups constitute the majority of groups on the list. Of the 54 listed groups, 41 are Islamic fundamentalists or Palestinian nationalists.

The list of terrorist entities helps to educate the public on which groups are a threat to security. Anyone examining this list would consequently come to the conclusion that Islamic terrorists are the primary threat to Canada. Such a belief contributes to fears of Muslims and foreign people. Ironically, it is this fear that was behind the 2017 Quebec Mosque Shooting, the third deadliest terrorist attack in Canadian history.

Islamic terrorist groups are responsible for several terrorist attacks in Canada. However, Islamic terrorism is not Canada’s primary security threat. Rather, it is the far-right. The far-right has been responsible for the three of the four deadliest attacks in Canadian history. The rise in hate crimes and far-right protests indicates that the threat is only increasing. Yet, not a single far-right group is included on the list of terrorist entities.

The absence of the far-right on the terrorist entities list sends a false signal that they are not a threat. This is true not only for the public, but also for Canada’s security agencies. For instance, internal documents from the RCMP reveal an internal debate over whether far-right groups are a terrorist threat. One reason why they were not considered a threat was because “there are no listed far right groups in Canada.”

Arguably, the government should add far-right groups to the list. However, any attempt to add these groups will likely meet fierce opposition. For instance, when the government of Canada introduced a motion in Parliament to denounce Islamophobia after the 2017 Quebec Mosque Shooting, it faced heavy opposition from the Conservatives. This is despite the fact that the motion had no legal effect. Adding far-right groups to the list will be far more difficult.

What is needed is not pressure on the government to add groups. Rather, the listing system must be repealed. The role of the Minister of PSEP ensures that political considerations, rather than security, will determine who is included. Arguably, the listing system provides clarity in targeting groups, despite its flaws. In fact, the opposite is true. In cases where individuals have provided financial assistance to terrorist groups, judges have relied on other sections of the Criminal Code rather than the listing section. In the few cases where listing has come up, the listing has added confusion. Groups are listed when the Minister has “reasonable grounds” to believe that they are a terrorist group. For courts, “reasonable grounds” is not sufficient to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that a group is involved in terrorism. Consequently, judges usually dismiss listing.

Listing adds no benefits. What it adds is fears of Muslims and downplays the threat of the far-right. If Canada wants to enhance its security, it should repeal the terrorist listing system.

Aidan Simardone