Proud Boys declared terror group by House of Commons: what does that mean?

Far-right and ultra-nationalist groups, including the Northern Guard, Proud Boys, and individuals wearing Soldiers of Odin patches, were among those gathered to protest the government's lawsuit settlement with Canadian torture victim Omar Khadr, at Nathan Philips Square in Toronto on Saturday, October 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

The Canadian government is one step closer to classifying The Proud Boys a terrorist entity in Canada, after the House of Commons voted in favour of the move. The motion was introduced by the New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh and passed unanimously by parliament on Monday.

The far-right, male-only white supremacist group, which was founded in 2015 by Canadian media personality Gavin McInnes, has raised its profile in recent years for engaging in violence at political rallies in the U.S. and Canada.

While the motion is symbolic in nature, it calls on the federal government to “use all available tools to address the proliferation of white supremacists and hate groups starting with the immediate designating of Proud Boys as a terrorist entity.” In order for the status to be official, members will need to formally add the group to its list of terrorist entities, placing them in the same category as terror organizations like al-Qaeda and Boko Haram.

Michael Kempa, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, explains that while the government is saying the move to classify The Proud Boys as a terrorist entity has an important symbolic dimension, the laws still apply, regardless of where the group might be based.

“What they’re now saying is the fact that we’re doing this sends an important signal that terrorists come from multiple ethnicities, political affiliations, and not just the ones at the forefront of our mind for the last 50 years,” he tells Yahoo Canada. “These people who are committing violent white supremacist acts are just as bad and that’s an important symbolic step to take.”

Practically speaking, though, there are still all kinds of legal consequences from being declared a terror organization, as it’s an indictable offence.

“Just being a member of such an organization, and the degree of your membership could influence a judge on how serious a criminal offence (they could hand down),” says Kempa.

He adds that while the move is symbolic for now, it still allows police and prosecutors the power to go after suspected members of the group. They can do this not only through the conventional criminal law that deals with individual suspects, but the ones that target organized networks of terror. And in order to do that, the network’s assets are a key target.

“It’s a little like how special statutes deal with organized crime, or how prosecutors go after the mafia by doing things like seizing assets that were derived through illegal activity,” he says.

When a group is considered a terrorist organization, police, CSIS and the RCMP have a little more latitude in getting things like surveillance orders from judges, to ultimately help prosecute.

The federal government, RCMP and in some cases provincial and municipal police officers also have the power to freeze property assets that are suspected to be held by members of terror organizations.

Terror networks are dependent on raising funds, and a major way they do this is by intersecting with organized crime, whether that’s through drug activity, gambling, theft or accumulating property. So if legal officials can freeze assets, it enables them to go after high-profile terror organizers who are accruing the most amounts of money and property, to disrupt those networks. This takes the profitability out of the organization and disrupts fundraising and in turn, membership.

Kempa says domestic terror in Canada has mostly been focused on domestic terror cells linked to international organizations. But the recent move towards classifying the Proud Boys as a terrorist group is making a point.

“Far right, white supremacist type movements...go back generations in Canada,” he says. “It’s always been there, it poses a problem and it's an increasing problem.”