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Canada puts pressure on allies to monitor far-right extremists

Canada's Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale in Ottawa.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Canada recently asked U.S. and other top intelligence allies to keep a tight watch on far-right extremists, who are increasingly grabbing international attention with anti-immigration messages and violent attacks, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said.

The federal government specifically raised the issue at a meeting in Ottawa in June attended by security and justice officials from the group known as Five Eyes, which is made up of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Britain and the United States.

Mr. Goodale said Canada wanted to make sure the fight against Islamist extremists didn't use up spying and law-enforcement resources at the expense of other threats to national security.

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"When the Five Eyes met here in June, Canada put [right-wing extremism] on the agenda," Mr. Goodale said in a joint interview with The Globe and Mail and Montreal's La Presse on Tuesday. "We were making the point that radicalization to violence and extremism comes from a variety of sources and it would be foolish to maintain there is only one source. There are many."

Mr. Goodale spoke about Canada's role at the closed-door meeting to highlight the federal government's continuing efforts to contain the threat posed by Canada's far-right extremists, many of whom have links to similar groups around the world.

There were a number of Canadian participants at a violent white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month, and there have recently been anti-Islam and anti-immigration rallies in cities such as Quebec City, Calgary and Vancouver.

The issue was top of mind for Canadian officials at the Five Eyes meeting after the deadly shooting at the Centre culturel islamique de Québec in Quebec City in January, as well as for the British delegation after the assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox during the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Mr. Goodale did not specifically speak about the U.S. position at the meeting, but there has been much criticism of President Donald Trump over differences in the way he has handled Islamist and far-right extremists.

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In the official communiqué released after the June 27 meeting of the Five Eyes, the group vowed to take on "the relentless threats of terrorism, violent extremism, cyber-attacks, and international instability." The only direct mention of a specific terrorist group was in relation to the Islamic State.

"The recent brutal attacks in the U.K., Afghanistan and elsewhere also serve as a reminder that Daesh [the Islamic State] and its affiliates will continue to attack soft targets in public spaces," the communiqué said.

Fighting violent extremist threats requires collaboration with the international intelligence community, in addition to having a strong anti-radicalization strategy at home, Mr. Goodale said.

"You can't know everything all the time. So you're constantly identifying where the holes may be, where the gaps may be. That is one of the reasons why we have very strong, effective information-sharing arrangements, with the right protections and safeguards and caveats, so that we can assist other countries as they assist us," he said.

Liberal MP Greg Fergus, who recently held a meeting with black parliamentarians in Ottawa, said it was "shocking" to watch the recent events unfold in Charlottesville. "I never expected to see in this day and age such baldly held views on anti-Semitism or on racism," he told reporters on Tuesday.

Still, he said he doesn't think the white-nationalist demonstrators in both the United States and Canada represent the broader public. "I feel strongly that most people don't hold those views."

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Mr. Fergus said he was comforted that thousands of counterdemonstrators showed up at recent Canadian rallies and at the Montreal Pride parade on the weekend.

"I think that says a lot more than a couple of hundred angry people who have I think some very offensive views," Mr. Fergus said.

Ontario's anti-racism minister, Michael Coteau, called the Charlottesville demonstration "emotionally very disturbing" and called for better data in Canada to address whether racist acts are increasing.

"My belief is that it's happening more, but we need good data to capture what is really taking place, and encouraging a lot of people to report when they experience this type of hate," Mr. Coteau said.

Mr. Goodale said he is optimistic that Canadians will overwhelmingly reject "white supremacists, neo-Nazis, hard-right attitudes."

"I have overwhelming confidence in the goodwill and good intent and good heart of Canadians, and in my view, the argument about diversity and inclusion and respect always has prevailed in this country and always will. But you can't take it for granted," he said.

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About the Authors
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

Parliamentary reporter

Laura Stone is a reporter in The Globe's Ottawa bureau. She joined The Globe in February 2016. Before that, she was an online and TV reporter for Global News in Ottawa. Laura has done stints at the Toronto Star, Postmedia News and the Vancouver Province. More

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