Ryan Scrivens is a PhD candidate in the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University.
Some of Canada's most urban centres were flooded with protesters Saturday and Sunday, from what President Trump would describe as "both sides" – those who were promoting racist, anti-immigration sentiment, and those who were opposing such hateful and intolerant rhetoric.
In Vancouver, for example, thousands of anti-racism supporters showed up Saturday to counter a rally that was planned by anti-immigrant demonstrators, essentially thwarting all efforts that were made by those who were promoting intolerance.
Protests were spawned from the disturbing events that unfolded in Charlottesville, Va. the previous weekend, where a so-called Unite the Right rally quickly turned violent when white-power demonstrators clashed with counter-demonstrators. Dozens of protesters were injured, and three people died, including 32-year-old Heather Heyer, when a vehicle was intentionally driven into a group of anti-racist counter-demonstrators.
Canadians watched in dismay as the hate-inspired violence unfolded south of the border, perhaps naïve to assume that such divisive ideologies do not – and cannot – exist in our multicultural nation. The truth of the matter is that Canada is not immune to violence inspired by bigotry and hatred.
In 2015, Professor Barbara Perry and I conducted a three-year study for Public Safety Canada on the state of the right-wing extremist movement in Canada, interviewing law-enforcement officials, community activists, and current and former right-wing extremists across the country, paired with open-source intelligence. Results from our research was shocking to many Canadians.
In short, we found that Canada's right-wing extremist movement was alive and well: we identified over 100 active groups and well over 100 incidents of right-wing extremist violence over the last 30 years in the country. We also uncovered that the threat of the extreme right had been overlooked and even trivialized by a number of key stakeholders, thus hindering their ability to effectively respond to the radical right in Canada.
In turn, we proposed evidence-based strategies that we saw as effective in responding to right-wing extremism in Canada, suggesting that a multi-sectoral approach was needed to address hate and ensure that extremists have minimal impact on communities. This included the integration and utilization of an array of experts, such as police officers, policy makers, victim service providers, community organizations and the media.
In the two years since our Public Safety report was released, I've been watching very closely as hate-inspired events have unfolded across Canada and how key stakeholders have responded to such events. I've noticed that some of our key recommendations are being put to practice – the counter-demonstration in Vancouver is but one example. This is an encouraging sign.
We are seeing community groups band together to spread messages of tolerance, and local, provincial and federal politicians are taking a public stance against hatred, making it clear that such sentiment does not represent Canadian beliefs and will not be tolerated. Reporters and journalists have also dedicated an increasing amount of time and energy to shed light on right-wing extremism in Canada, highlighting its complexities and prevalence. Stakeholders are now including their voices in the discussions about how we can build resiliency against hatred, which starts by raising awareness of the problem and mobilizing the public.
Some, though, are calling for the outright filtering of those who subscribe to extreme-right beliefs. Do not let them have an outlet for their negative views, the argument goes. This would mean not allowing them to hold a rally or have a website. This approach is counteractive, and perhaps irresponsible. This is a Band-aid solution – the views will still be there, and will only get stronger, solidifying radical right-wing ideologies. Right-wing extremists generally believe that the mainstream media and the broader public are systematically attempting to suppress their radical views, so prohibiting them from expressing their views will further reinforce their hateful beliefs.
We must not stay home when hatemongers are protesting in the streets. Adherents should never be able to promote hatred. At the same time, we cannot assume that silencing them is the solution.
Instead, Canadians must continue to attend their demonstrations, challenge ideas and not people specifically, and in a peaceful manner – like we saw in Vancouver this past weekend. Stand up against racism, xenophobia and bigotry by challenging adherents' views, but do not engage with them. Most are easy to provoke, and most want to be provoked. Don't give them the satisfaction.