Far-right groups on terror list will rebrand: expert

Far-right groups on terror list will rebrand: expert

ZAK VESCERA

Adding Neo-Nazis to the country's list of terrorist groups was a "symbolic" gesture, says expert Candyce Kelshall. CALGARY POLICE SERVICE/Files

The federal government is unpre­pared for tackling far-right ex­tremism and needs to rethink its approach, said a local think-tank. 

Candyce Kelshall, president of the Vancouver branch of the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies, said tradi­tional counterterrorism measures aren't equipped to tackle right­ wing groups, which she described as transnational and decentralized. 

"Law enforcement is looking at these groups as entities ... with a hierarchical structure," said Kelshall. "But, in fact, that is not the case."

Last month, Public Safety Cana­ da added neo-Nazi group Blood and Honour and its "armed branch" - Combat 18 - to the country's offi­cial list of terrorist entities, mark­ing the first time right-wing groups appeared on the list

Kelshall said labelling Blood and Honour as a terrorist organization sends a strong message, but the group will likely rebrand in another form.

"It is important in that it signals that people are paying attention to right-wing extremism," she said. "But the act itself is symbolic."

Kelshall noted members of organizations such as the xenopho­bic street gang Soldiers of Odin recently renamed themselves the "Canadian Infidels." She said mak­ing such changes is common for far-right movements, unlike other terrorist organizations.

"You can brand their group as a terrorist organization. It will simply rebrand into something else," she said.

Blood and Honour emerged from the British neo-Nazi music movement in the 1970s and has since spread to Canada and the United States.

The group, which the govern­ment describes as "an internation­al neo-Nazi network whose ideol­ogy is derived from the National Socialist doctrine of Nazi Germa­ny," made headlines in Vancouver in 2011 after three members were charged in a series of alleged hate crimes dating back to 2008.

In one 2009 incident, police said a Filipino man sleeping on a discarded couch was apparently doused in flammable liquid and set on fire. Charges were acquitted or stayed in the case. Blood and Honour was also linked to a series of armed attacked in Edmonton and Calgary in 2012 and 2013.

A 2017 RCMP report said the group was active in Quebec, Alber­ta and Ontario at the time. Vancouver police said the group no longer has a visible presence in the city. A statement from B.C. RCMP's hate crimes unit said sources indicate only "limited Blood & Honour ac­tivity in B.C. after 2012."

But Kelshall, an expert on coun­terterrorism, said the group's affil­iate organizations are still active in disseminating hate online or in other far-right groups.

She noted that far-right extrem­ism is "transnational" in nature, meaning radicalized people come from a variety of different coun­tries and may have different spe­cific grievances that motivate their actions.

A heavily redacted January 2018 CSIS report obtained by a freedom of information request stated that social media plays a key role in spreading hateful rhetoric, noting "the ease by which European and American extreme right-wing con­ tent is consumed by like-minded Canadians."

Kelshall said the result is that far-right extremism is gaining ground in mainstream politics rather than as isolated attacks.

A heavily redacted January 2018 CSIS report obtained by a freedom of information request stated that social media plays a key role in spreading hateful rhetoric, noting "the ease by which European and American extreme right-wing con­ tent is consumed by like-minded Canadians."

Kelshall said the result is that far-right extremism is gaining ground in mainstream politics rather than as isolated attacks.

"(Attacks) are a bit like lightning strikes," she said. "If we focus on the lightning strikes, we're not going to look at the hail or the flood waters that will come as the storm is passing trough.

"We're more concerned that the thunderstorm of right-wing extremism is doing more damage than those who are hit by lightning strikes."

zvescera@postmedia.com twitter.com/zakvescera