As racist violence in the US has steadily increased and culminated in the events at Charlottesville last weekend, there has also been a rise in right-wing extremist activity in Canada. The actions of right-wing extremists and other racist groups in Canada are largely monitored by the RCMP and recent estimates suggest there are dozens of active white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups across the country. Most of these groups are active in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia and advocate everything from anti-immigrant views to nationalism. They also target visible minorities, immigrants, Jews and Muslims, among others.
The pattern of right-wing extremist violence in Canada has been deemed not consistent enough to be treated as a national security concern. A threat assessment based on input from Canada’s intelligence agencies released just days before the deadly January shooting at a Quebec City mosque determined there was “no indication that right-wing extremists pose a threat to migrants.” However, the Quebec shooting, believed to have been carried out by an individual holding anti-immigrant views, raised questions about the accuracy of the security establishment’s estimation of right-wing extremism.
While most Canadians like to believe displays of outright racism, such as recent events that took place in Charlottesville, does not happen in their country, a report published in 2015 documented the existence of more than 100 right-wing extremist groups across the country. In a tweet condemning the violence in Charlottesville on Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reminded Canadians that the country is not immune to “racist violence and hate.” The beginnings of organized right-wing extremism in Canada can be traced back to the presence of the Ku Klux Klan in many provinces since the 1920’s, and the influential Heritage Front in the 1990’s.
Displays of far-right tendencies were evident in the debate over the Conservative government’s ban on niqabs at citizenship ceremonies during the last Canadian federal election. Yet, recent events seem to support the claim that unlike in the US, only a few Canadians openly espouse far-right extremist views. An “anti-Islam” rally planned by two far-right groups scheduled to take place in Vancouver on Saturday ultimately resulted in a massive celebration of diversity. While only a handful of far-right protesters seemed to be present and their organizers were nowhere to be found, about 4,000 counter protesters showed up to speak against the rally. Also, the University of Toronto has told a group espousing white nationalist views that it would not be allowed to hold a rally on campus next month.
At face value, laws against hate speech also seem to be more stringent in Canada than in the US. In the US the first amendment protects even the most hateful and offensive speech. While Canada’s constitution protects freedom of expression, it also honours multiculturalism and equality. Freedom of speech in Canada is not an absolute right and Section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows the government to reasonably limit it. Hence, technically, individuals may be jailed for promoting hate speech that targets a group, but several conditions must be met before this is accomplished and this makes it difficult to investigate and prosecute hate crimes in Canada.