The Canadian government must do more to understand the scale of extremist groups’ attempts to recruit members from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and federal law enforcement, a parliamentary committee has concluded.
The House of Commons’ public safety and national security committee also said the federal government needs to “strengthen the internal mechanisms” in the CAF and the RCMP that “hold personnel of these agencies accountable when they are found to be supporting violent extremist movements.”
The unsettling recommendations were included in the committee’s report into the rising threat of “ideologically-motivated violent extremism” – Canada’s umbrella term for far-right and grievance-based extremism – which has preoccupied the security and intelligence community in recent years.
“IMVE groups are intent on enhancing their capacity for violence,” the report, released Tuesday, read.
“Professor (Barbara) Perry said her research on the far-right’s efforts to infiltrate the Canadian Armed Forces uncovered instances of far-right group members enlisting in the CAF, often as reservists, to received training they can share with their group,” the report quotes Perry, one of Canada’s foremost experts on far-right extremism.
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“She said far-right groups also seek to recruit serving members of the military and veterans, the latter of whom may lack the kinds of social supports they had in the CAF and are ‘looking for a familiar place to belong.’”
Researchers and journalists covering the far-right in Canada have for years warned about extremist attempts to infiltrate both the military and the law enforcement community. But there is little understanding about the scale of the issue in Canada.
Jessica Davis, the head of Insight Threat Intelligence and a former Canadian national security official, told the committee that an “imbalance of resources” in the security and intelligence community has led ideologically-motivated extremists to have “a certain sense of impunity.”
Davis pointed to police officers who donated funds to the recent convoy protests in Ottawa and elsewhere.
“There’s been a real sense that a lot of these actors can get away with it, particularly because there is, to a certain extent, some radicalization in police and the military,” Davis told the committee.
“It creates a sense that they’re not going to face any consequences.”
Perry told the committee that far-right extremist groups have seen an “incredible growth” in numbers since 2015, with upwards of 300 groups emerging over seven years.
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Some groups have seized on COVID-19 conspiracy theories and opposition to public health measures such as vaccines and lockdowns as key recruiting and rallying tools.
“Constructing narratives that echo and exploit genuine societal anxieties and grievances has been key to the expansion of (ideologically-motivated violent extremism) in Canada,” the committee reported.
“Witnesses agreed that (extremist) influencers have profited from the fear and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic … vulnerability factors such as social isolation, fear of the unknown and anxiety stemming from the pandemic caused some to adopt extreme views and solutions. Exploiting these vulnerability factors, (extremist) influencers have connected concerns over public health measures to the movement’s broader corpus of conspiracy theories.”
The committee recommended that the government boost funding to accurately track hate crimes – which are believed to be underreported in Canada’s patchwork data collection approach – as well as boosting the funding for vulnerable groups to improve security measures in their community.
Police in provinces and territories should also receive better training on investigating ideologically-driven extremism and hate crimes, including support for provincial police on infiltrating hate groups, the committee said.
The committee also suggested looking at how hate and extremism is amplified on social media, and how the government could address “harmful online content” while respecting Canadians’ Charter rights. The committee requested the government provide a “comprehensive response” to their recommendations.
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