Improve Management of Canada’s “Terror List”

In response to the September 11 attacks in 2001, the Canadian government introduced the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). In keeping with the ATA, the government has maintained a list of terrorist entities since 2002. As of May 2019, there are 55 groups on Canada’s terror list. The next review is set for November 2020. Canada’s terror designation may simply align with an ally’s designation, without consideration of the focus of the terrorism activities.  In addition, Canada’s terror designation may ignore the fact that such organizations often have political wings which provide day-to-day social services, which are distinct from their militant wings.  Also, regardless of Canada’s designation of certain groups, such groups often have an inevitable role to play in regional peace and stability. Canada should adopt a more consistent and nuanced approach to listing terrorist entities. This list should properly reflect current threats to Canadian security, and not merely be a list of global Islamist organizations. White nationalist groups and far-right organizations increasingly pose a threat to Canadian security, and this reality should be reflected in our terror list.

Overview

In response to the September 11 attacks in 2001, the Canadian government introduced the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). This legislation formed a key component of the government’s national security framework, as it amended the Criminal Code to create a new chapter dealing specifically with terrorism. In keeping with the ATA, the government has maintained a list of terrorist entities since 2002. Being on the list itself does not constitute a criminal offence, although it is illegal to contribute to or participate in the activities of these listed entities. As of May 2019, there are 55 groups on Canada’s terror list. The next review is set for November 2020.[i]

The Canadian government has an established procedure for determining which entities to list as terrorist organizations. This procedure, however, has not been followed in a consistent and nuanced fashion.  For example, many international organizations listed as “terrorist” groups represent politically repressed groups, which often see themselves as “freedom fighters.”  Canada’s terror designation may simply align with an ally’s designation, without consideration of the focus of the terrorism activities.  In addition, Canada’s terror designation may ignore the fact that such organizations often have political wings which provide day-to-day social services, which are distinct from their militant wings.  Also, regardless of Canada’s designation of certain groups, such groups often have an inevitable role to play in regional peace and stability.

Also notable is the fact that there are no white nationalist or far-right extremist groups on this list, despite the obvious threat of right-wing violence, both domestically and internationally. Canada must adopt a more consistent and nuanced approach when determining whether or not to list an entity. It is important that Canada’s terror list be reflective of the current threat environment to Canada, and should not be an overly-politicized catalogue of blacklisted groups. 

Questions for Federal Candidates

  • Terrorism, whether international or domestic, is usually driven by root-cause grievances. Would you encourage Canada to study and address, when possible, the root causes behind such acts of violence? 
  • Would you support ways to de-politicize the Canadian government’s listing of terrorist groups? And would you support a more frequent review of this list?
  • Are there any groups currently on Canada’s terror list that you believe should not be listed?

If elected:

  • Will you work to improve caucus member understanding of regional instability, and the root causes of conflict around the world?
  • Will you work within caucus to raise awareness of Canada’s inconsistent terrorist group listing practices?
  • Will you work within caucus to propose ways to bring greater coherency to Canada’s existing listing strategy?

Supporting Points

  • International Law and the UN Position. There is no international law that requires states to list suspected terrorist entities. That being said, it is not illegal for states to compile such a list. In fact, there are several UN Security Council resolutions that call upon states to take action in the fight against terrorism, and to implement counterterrorism measures. For example, Security Council resolution 1373 (2001) called upon all states to prevent and suppress the financing of terrorist acts, and to criminalize the collection of funds for terrorist acts.[ii] Security Council resolution 1566 (2004) called for the establishment of a working group to consider practical measures to be imposed on individuals, groups or entities involved in or associated with terrorist activities.[iii] States recognized that in order to comply with these resolutions, they would first have to identify entities associated with terrorism. As a result, many states have compiled a terror list as a means of identifying groups or individuals associated with terrorism, and informing the public. The UN itself does not have a general list of all terrorist organizations, most likely because the international body has yet to agree on a single definition of what terrorism is. There are twelve different international protocols and conventions on the prevention and suppression of terrorism, none of which provide states with a definition of terrorism.
  • Canada’s Official Listing Policy. In response to UN Security Council resolution 1373, the Canadian government introduced the Anti-Terrorism Act in 2001. This act provides measures for the government to create a list of entities that have knowingly carried out or participated in terrorist activity.[iv] To be considered ‘terrorist activity,’ as defined under the Criminal Code, an act must meet two criteria. First, the act must have been committed in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, with the intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of the public. Second, the act must have intentionally caused death or serious bodily harm to a person or endangered a person’s life.[v] As such, a ‘terrorist group’ is any entity whose objective is to carry out terrorist acts, or who facilitates terrorist activity.[vi] The process of listing a terrorist entity begins with a gathering of intelligence, if there are reasonable grounds to believe that this entity has been involved in terrorist activity.[vii] These intelligence reports are then submitted to the Minister of Public Safety for consideration, who may then make a recommendation to the Governor in Council to place the entity on the terror list. If the Governor in Council is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to list this entity, then they may be placed on Canada’s terror list. It is then illegal for institutions and individuals to participate in or contribute to the activities of these listed entities.[viii]
  • A Need for Greater Consistency. Despite having a set listing policy in place, there has been a lack of consistency in how the government has applied its definition of ‘terrorist activity.’ An overwhelming number of the groups listed on Canada’s terror list are Islamist organizations— 41 out of 55, to be precise.[ix] While many of these organizations deserve to be listed, Islamist organizations certainly do not make up ¾ of the world’s terror organizations. Absent from Canada’s list are any white supremacist or far-right extremist organizations, despite many of these groups meeting the ATA definition of a terrorist group. Globally, there has been a rise in right wing extremism and white nationalism, and Canada has not been immune to this trend. In 2017, Alexandre Bissonette killed six Muslim worshippers at a mosque in Quebec City, motivated by far-right and Islamophobic tendencies. In 2014, Justin Bourque, motivated by far-right extremist views, killed three RCMP officers, and injured two others in New Brunswick. Abroad, the world witnessed the 2019 Christchurch attack on Muslim worshippers and the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, both of which were committed by white nationalists. Many of these individual attacks have been tied back to the ideologies and tactics espoused by extremist groups like Identify Evropa, American Identity Movement, Storm Alliance, and Soldiers of Odin.[x] In its 2018 report on the terrorism threat to Canada, Public Safety Canada devoted an entire section to the threat posed by extreme far-right groups. And yet, none of these groups are included on Canada’s terror list.
  • A Need for More Nuance. Canada’s listing strategy also lacks nuance—especially in regard to Islamist political organizations. Hezbollah, for one, has been listed as a terrorist entity since 2002, despite being a legitimate and long-time political player in Lebanon’s parliamentary democracy. Hezbollah’s political party, which currently holds 12 seats in the Lebanese parliament, operates separately from its paramilitary wing, the Jihad Council. The Canadian government, however, does not distinguish between these two wings, and instead lists Hezbollah in its entirety. Hamas is also listed as a terrorist entity, despite being the de facto governing authority of the Gaza Strip since 2007. Like Hezbollah, Hamas has both a paramilitary wing and a political wing; however, once again, the Canadian government does not distinguish between these two wings. Seeing as Hamas’ political wing is listed as a terrorist entity, aid organizations who collaborate with the government in Gaza are also considered terrorist entities. For example, the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy (IRFAN – Canada), a Canadian not for profit organization, was listed as a terrorist entity in 2014 for allegedly transferring funds to organizations with links to Hamas. More specifically, IRFAN worked with the Gaza Ministry of Health and Ministry of Telecommunications, which came under Hamas’ control after they won the 2006 Palestinian legislative election.[xi] Despite providing much-needed aid to orphans across the Middle East, and financing numerous projects for children in the West Bank and Gaza, IRFAN was listed for “facilitating terrorist activity” due to its collaboration with the Hamas-led Gazan government. This is the consequence of failing to distinguish between Hamas’ military wing and its political wing.
  • Actions Taken by Canadian Allies. The German government has refused to blacklist Hezbollah altogether, despite pressure from the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Germany has repeatedly defended its position, arguing that Hezbollah is a “relevant factor” in Lebanon’s complex political landscape.[xii] The EU, as well, has chosen to only list Hezbollah’s military wing on its own terror list.[xiii] Meanwhile, the UK has shown some degree of nuance in its own listing process by only listing Hamas’ military wing, as opposed to the entire organization.[xiv]

Recommendations for Canada

  • Canada should adopt a more consistent and nuanced approach to listing terrorist entities. This list should properly reflect current threats to Canadian security, and not merely be a list of global Islamist organizations. White nationalist groups and far-right organizations increasingly pose a threat to Canadian security, and this reality should be reflected in our terror list.
  • The Canadian government often takes cues from the United States on issues of security. With Donald Trump at the helm, the US is no longer a credible judge of security threats. In April 2019, Trump designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, and may soon move to apply this same label to the Muslim Brotherhood. Canada should not follow in these footsteps, and should continuously aim to distinguish between Islamist political organizations and violent terror groups.

 

[i] Public Safety Canada. (n.d.). About the listing process. Retrieved from https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/bt-lstng-prcss-en.aspx

[ii] Security Council resolution 1373, S/RES/1373. (September 28, 2001). Retrieved from https://www.unodc.org/pdf/crime/terrorism/res_1373_english.pdf

[iii] Security Council resolution 1566, Threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts, S/RES/1566. (October 8, 2004). Retrieved from http://unscr.com/en/resolutions/1566

[iv] Department of Justice. (n.d.) “About the Anti-Terrorism Act.” Government of Canada. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/ns-sn/act-loi.html

[v] Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c. C – 83(1). Retrieved from https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/c-46/page-11.html#docCont

[vi] Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c. C – 83(1). Retrieved from https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/c-46/page-11.html#docCont

[vii] Public Safety Canada. (n.d.). About the listing process. Retrieved from https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/bt-lstng-prcss-en.aspx

[viii] Public Safety Canada. (n.d.). About the listing process. Retrieved from https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/bt-lstng-prcss-en.aspx

[ix] Public Safety Canada. (n.d.). About the listing process. Retrieved from https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/bt-lstng-prcss-en.aspx

[x] Counter Extremism Project. (n.d.) Guide to white supremacy groups. Retrieved from https://www.counterextremism.com/content/guide-white-supremacy-groups#dd-socialist

[xi] Engler, Y. (October 11, 2017). Defenders of racism in Israel should not be consulted about racism here. Retrieved from https://yvesengler.com/2017/10/11/defenders-of-racism-in-israel-should-not-be-consulted-about-racism-here/

[xii] Shalal, A. (March 8, 2019). “Germany won’t classify Iran ally Hezbollah as terrorist: Spiegel.” Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-lebanon-hezbollah/germany-wont-classify-iran-ally-hezbollah-as-terrorist-spiegel-idUSKCN1QP1YT

[xiii] European Council. (2019). EU terrorist list. Retrieved from https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/fight-against-terrorism/terrorist-list/

[xiv] UK Home Office. (April 12, 2019). Proscribed terrorist organizations. Retrieved from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/795457/Proscription_website.pdf

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