Canada’s parliament has unanimously passed a motion urging the federal government to label the Proud Boys a “terrorist” organization, accusing the right-wing group of using violence and preaching “hate.”
The House of Commons passed the measure without opposition on Monday, calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to “use all available tools to address the proliferation of white supremacists and hate groups starting with the immediately designating the Proud Boys as a terrorist entity.”
The motion was introduced by New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jagmeet Singh, who celebrated its passage on Monday afternoon, though he voiced a note of caution, stating that Trudeau “has a habit of breaking his promises” and can’t be trusted to “follow through” on the measure.
Singh moved to add the group to the “terrorist entities” blacklist almost immediately after the riot at the US Capitol on January 6, which saw a crowd of supporters of former president Donald Trump storm the building as Congress convened to certify Joe Biden’s election win. By January 7, the NDP chief launched a petition deeming the Proud Boys a “right-wing extremist group that promotes white supremacist views,” while stating that its members “joined a group armed with deadly weapons as they led an assault on the US Capitol.”
This was an act of domestic terrorism.
The Canadian government, for its part, said it is considering the terrorist designation, but has yet to pull the trigger, with Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair stating: “We’re working very diligently to ensure that where the evidence is available… that we’ll deal appropriately” with the Proud Boys – a group created by Canadian citizen Gavin McInnes, a co-founder of Vice magazine.
“We’re very mindful of ideologically motivated violent extremists, including groups like the Proud Boys. They are white supremacists, anti-Semitics, Islamophobic, misogynist groups. They’re all hateful, they’re all dangerous,” Blair said.
If added to the terrorism list, the Proud Boys would join known militant groups such as Al-Qaeda, Islamic State and Boko Haram, also giving Canadian authorities the ability to seize assets from the organization. The push to label the group comes amid a similar offensive against “domestic extremists” in the US following the riot on Capitol Hill, with the new Joe Biden administration quickly ordering a “threat assessment” on such groups and the “role of social media” in the unrest on January 6.
While a spokesperson for Blair argued such designations are “not a political exercise” and must be based on “legal processes” and “concrete evidence,” many observers online have blasted Singh’s motion as a thinly veiled political gesture targeting a right-wing organization, some suggesting there are “bigger fish” to fry than the Proud Boys – which was originally founded by McInnes in jest.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network – created to “monitor, research, and counter hate groups” – criticized the measure as too broad, saying that while some Proud Boys factions have “all the hallmarks of a terrorist organization,” it is nonetheless concerned about “definitions being loosened, power being misused, and eroding civil liberties or the criminalization of legitimate protest.” The network named “more threatening white supremacist” groups it said are more deserving of the ‘terrorism’ label.
David Hofmann, a professor of sociology at the University of New Brunswick, has also voiced skepticism in the designation. Last week, he told Public Radio International the move would have no “real strategic value,” predicting it would only scatter the Proud Boys into other groups and won’t “change the members’ ideas.”
Though the Proud Boys are an avowedly right-wing outfit that vocally supported Trump, the group’s current leader Enrique Tarrio – who identifies as “Afro-Cuban” – has repeatedly denied any connection to “white supremacy” and insists his organization is not a “hate group.”
“I denounce white supremacy. I denounce anti-Semitism. I denounce racism. I denounce fascism. I denounce communism and any other -ism that is prejudiced towards people because of their race, religion, culture, tone of skin,” Tarrio told a Florida Fox affiliate last year.
Tarrio made headlines more recently after he was arrested in Washington, DC on property destruction charges, linked to a demonstration in December where he torched a Black Lives Matter banner belonging to a local church. The Proud Boys chairman has admitted to burning the sign, but claimed it wasn’t “about the color of someone’s skin,” but rather because “BLM is a Marxist movement… that has terrorized the citizens of [the United States].”