As the United States’ two major parties fracture themselves by moving to the extreme right or extreme left, our neighbors to the north are also experiencing a problem with right-wing extremism. Much like the extremism of those who follow presidential candidate Donald Trump, much of it is heavily rooted in xenophobia and racism, as well as the desire to scapegoat other groups for problems experienced by the disgruntled and ignorant among the populace.
A study recently published by a trio of researchers entitled “Uneasy Alliances: A Look at the Right-Wing Extremist Movement in Canada” found that there are over a hundred such groups operating in the nation, most in British Columbia, Alberta, and Quebec. We aren’t talking about groups who simply espouse their hate and misinformation online then move along either; we are talking about groups that have carried out attacks and even murders on those whose political beliefs they don’t like.
Of course, the number of groups in Canada is dwarfed by those in the United States, as we have nearly 900 operating here, including the infamous Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Brotherhood, and a number of separatist groups from across the political and racial spectrum. This is to be somewhat expected, as the United States is a much larger and diverse country than Canada. But the challenge for Canadian officials isn’t so much the number of groups who are active, it’s the unpredictability of when and where they will strike.
“ … The unpredictability of violence here may make it all the more disturbing [than in the United States],” said one of the authors of the report, Ryan Scrivens. “It is difficult to assess precisely when an attack might occur or what might motivate it. It is especially challenging, then, to counter the violence.”
Right-wing extremism is often overlooked both in Canada and the United States in favor of conversations about terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and Daesh. These groups are certainly deadlier in their respective regions, but fringe groups in North America have killed far more people than any jihadist group.
There is a lot of crossover between the two nations’ white supremacy groups, as well. They have the same fears of non-English speaking people and people with other ethnic or racial heritage (especially anybody who is brown or black). Occasionally this fear turns to outright violence and groups might lash out at those they perceive as a threat, like this Japanese woman who was walking home one evening when she was brutally beaten by the Aryan Guard. Other attacks have led to the deaths of police officers and members of the media who speak out against such cowardly attacks.
These attacks have been rising in Canada recently. Thousands of hate crimes are committed every year, with hundreds of them being outright assaults on individuals. The hate groups have been emboldened as well, with the Canadian Nazi Party even running candidates in some elections.
As these groups continue to feel more and more marginalized with the growing acceptance of refugees, LGBTQ rights, and basically treating all people equally, they become even more extreme. Some of their views make their way into the public consciousness on both sides of the border, and more attacks are inevitable, despite the best efforts of rational people to behave like human beings rather than vicious beasts. The study’s authors agree, as do reformed former members, that not enough is being done to address the issue.
“The way the government is facilitating deradicalization programs is bound to fail,” says former extremist Daniel Gallant, who now helps others leave the life. “We need to have an honest look at the fact that the history of extremist violence has been committed by the extreme far right. Until that happens, it’s not going to change. And the focus on jihadists is not going to change.”