Tuesday, September 12, 2017

In our own backyard: A look at right-wing extremism in Ontario

Across the United States, statues honouring Confederate figures have prompted debates about the role of public space in commemorating a racist past. On the streets, that discord manifests in protests between those who demand the removal of such monuments and those who favour an alternate version of the Civil War: the so-called Lost Cause, which promotes honour and tradition, rather than slavery and white supremacy. These frequent confrontations culminated in the recent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, which, under the guise of a “Unite the Right” demonstration, were designed to challenge the removal of the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee in the recently renamed Emancipation Park. But the rally was effectively a call to arms for white supremacists and featured neo-Nazi slogans such as “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.”  The weekend rallies drew tiki-torch-bearing white nationalists from across North America. One man sympathetic to the cause plowed his vehicle into a crowd, killing Heather Heyer and injuring a dozen others.

And while Canada doesn’t have Confederate statues in its parks, it’s home to some white supremacists of its own. A 2015 national survey of right-wing extremism in Canada, by Barbara Perry of UOIT and Ryan Scrivens of Simon Fraser University, estimated there were 20 extremist groups in Ontario — second only to Quebec’s roughly 25. All told, the paper estimated there were 100 white supremacist groups across Canada, although Perry is already looking to update those findings.

Ontario, Quebec, B.C., and Alberta are the most populous and most diverse provinces; according to Perry, they’re also where the highest concentration of right-wing extremist activity is reported. These hate groups may be subtly different from one another, but they’re all rooted in extreme right-wing values and white identity. So-called blood and honour groups, for example, fit the conception of 1990s neo-Nazi gangs: recruiting through white power music and embroiled in violent rivalries with other groups. Newly formed organizations such as Gavin McInnis’s Proud Boys call themselves Western chauvinists, but they’re primarily misogynists and white supremacists: in Halifax, on Canada Day, members confronted supporters of a Mi'kmaq ceremony denouncing the city founder’s colonial legacy. Soldiers of Odin and Pegida, which have roots in Europe, are racist street gangs that patrol communities to preserve so-called Canadian values using anti-Muslim messaging.

Ontario has long been a hotbed for white supremacists: it’s home to neo-Nazis, Toronto’s Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Resistance Movement, and the Edmund Burke Society (later the Western Guard). Right-wing extremism saw a resurgence in the ’70s and ’80s, in response to increased immigration. Skinhead gangs appeared on the streets of downtown Toronto, and by the ’90s, neo-Nazi music had achieved greater underground popularity.  (more...)


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