The Proud Boys will be deemed an “ideologically motivated violent extremist group” along with three others: Atomwaffen Division, The Base and Russian Imperial Movement, the government said in a news release.
“Their violent actions and rhetoric are fueled by white supremacy, anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and misogyny, and unfortunately, often in combination of all of the above,” said Public Safety Minister Bill Blair at a news conference Wednesday.
Government officials say the move will help Canada freeze the groups’ financial assets and criminalize financing, training and recruitment for all such groups.
When asked about the new terrorist designation for the Proud Boys, Blair said that the events of January 6 on the US Capitol did initiate a “political response” in Canada, but that the decision was not political.
“And as disturbing and concerning as those images and those events were, they also provided law enforcement and our intelligence services with a trove of new information in which quite frankly, many of these groups revealed themselves,” said Blair, adding that Canada’s decision was based on “evidence, intelligence and the law.”
Canadian government officials say they know of no other nation that has designated the Proud Boys a terrorist group.
“What I can tell you is over the past several months, basically since 2018, we have seen an escalation and there is an escalation towards violence for this group,” said Blair referring to the Proud Boys adding that, “In the aftermath of the US presidential election we’ve seen an escalation in supports that signal an escalation towards violence in a number of different groups, including the Proud Boys.”
CNN reached out to the leader of the Proud Boys, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, for comment but has not heard back.
“We work very closely with law enforcement agencies and our national security partners, … (and in the case of the Proud Boys) we have been monitoring very carefully and gathering evidence that supports the determination and the decision that was made with respect to this,” said Blair.
Last month, Parliament unanimously passed a motion calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to designate the Proud Boys as a banned terrorist group.
Some Canadian rights’ groups say listing the Proud Boys as a terrorist entity could broaden the definition of terrorism to the point of endangering protest and free speech rights.
In January, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network (CAHN) said in a blog post that, “The Canadian Proud Boys should continue to be countered, exposed, and held accountable, but a terrorism designation is a serious step that merits further discussion.”
Evan Balgord, CAHN’s executive director, told CNN during an interview after the announcement that his organization’s concern was that protest groups, for instance, Indigenous groups, not be harmed by a “broadening” of the terrorist category.
“I think the minister (Blair) met some of our concerns today which we appreciate, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to continue to look how terrorism is discussed, how the labels are applied and so on,” said Balgord, adding that the government has not publicly disclosed any intelligence or charges against the Proud Boys in Canada.
There’s no US law to designate a wholly domestic group as a terrorist organization.
Canadian officials also said they would continue to engage with digital companies regarding the activities of such groups.
“I think it’s about time that some of these groups are listed. They have operated for a long time out in the open. They have recruited out in the open, fund-raised, sold branded merchandise and so on,” said Amarnath Amarasingam, a Canadian researcher who has done extensive studies on the origins and motivations of Canada’s extremist groups and their members.
In online statements, Proud Boys have claimed they have used violence only in self-defense. But members are often seen carrying firearms and bats and donning protective gear, and some have been convicted of crimes against anti-fascist protesters.
The group’s ideology has been labeled “misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic, and anti-immigration” by the Anti-Defamation League.
In September, members of the Proud Boys celebrated comments made by then-US President Donald Trump after he was asked to condemn White supremacists, and refused to do so, during a presidential debate.
Trump instead used his allotted time to blame what he called “antifa and the left” for violence and to tell the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”
CNN’s Paul Murphy and Sara Sidner contributed to this report.