Placing the Proud Boys on Canada’s Terrorism List Is a Threat to the Left

The far-right Proud Boys is an odious and reactionary force. But the Canadian government’s decision to designate them a “terrorist group” is an overreach that threatens the ability of progressives to organize themselves and protest injustice.

Hundreds gathered during a Proud Boys rally at Delta Park in Portland, Oregon on September 26, 2020. (Maranie R. Staab / AFP via Getty Images)

In 2001, following the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, the Canadian government rushed through Bill C-36, subsequently known as the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). The center-left New Democratic Party (NDP) was the only party in the House of Commons to vote against it.

Opposition to what was, in essence, Canada’s version of the United States’s Patriot Act, was a brave stance to take at the time. Anyone raising concerns over potential threats to civil liberties ran the risk of being accused of being soft on what mainstream commentators referred to as “Islamofascism.”

The party has now reversed course. Almost two decades after the NDP’s challenge to the Anti-Terrorism Act, and six years after they opposed a radical enhancement of the legislation in 2015, the party appears to have shifted away from its robust defense of civil liberties. Days after the “Stop the Steal” riot in Washington, DC, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh called on Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to ban the hard-right Proud Boys and to place them — alongside the likes of the Taliban and ISIS — on the country’s official list of terrorist entities.

The Trudeau Liberals complied and on February 3, the Proud Boys were designated a terrorist organization in Canada with support from mainstream parties. No doubt, the group’s beliefs and practices are offensive, and they should be politically challenged by socialists, but the decision sets a dangerous precedent for those who organize against the far-right, too.

Who Are the Proud Boys?

The Proud Boys were founded in 2016 by the Canadian YouTube controversialist and cofounder of Montreal-based Vice magazine, Gavin McInnes. The male-only group is a sort of right-wing Fight Club — a deeply misogynist fraternity whose members get together to drink and punch each other, and complain that no one is proud of Western civilization anymore.

They describe themselves as a “Western chauvinist” fraternal organization and drinking club. Most of their beliefs — which amount to a refusal to apologize for or even recognize the West’s history of racism and colonialism, and a nostalgia for a prefeminist status of women — are thoroughly repugnant.

Other beliefs and practices are simply eccentric. Initiation involves being pummeled by their soon-to-be Proud Boy brothers while naming five breakfast cereals, and they focus a lot of attention on not masturbating. In what is completely, 100 percent not in any way indicative of repressed homosexual desire, these men get together to confess the details about the situations that led to this or that member falling off the no-wank wagon.

Some members of the Proud Boys participated in the Capitol riot and the head of their Hawaii chapter was charged over his alleged role in the events. In addition, their Afro-Cuban national leader, Enrique Tarrio, was arrested the night before the riot and charged with a firearms offense and destruction of property. He had burned a Black Lives Matter banner, torn down from a historic black church, while at a different pro-Trump demonstration in the city the month before. Following the storming of the Capitol, the group’s members posted statements and memes in support via Proud Boys Telegram and Parler channels.

Trump supporters storm the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Being placed on the terrorist list doesn’t mean the organization is banned. But it is illegal to provide it financial services, facilitate any transaction, or to knowingly deal with any property of the group. Banks or other financial institutions cannot process anything — including mortgages and rent payments — on behalf of its members. Paying membership dues is likewise criminalized, as is providing the group with any skill or expertise, and travel restrictions can be applied to its members.

In effect, the Canadian government’s designation of the Proud Boys as a terrorist group completely freezes the organization’s and its members’ ability to do anything in society. Unsurprisingly, after it made the list, its websites immediately went down, and it was banned by Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

A Cross-Party Consensus

Both the Liberals and the opposition Tories were quick to agree with the NDP about the government measure. While this is not at all a common phenomenon, in this instance, both parties had an urgent interest in agreeing for once with their center-left colleagues.

While the Tories may be Canada’s equivalent of the Republican Party, the party is perhaps one degree to the left of their American colleagues. Trumpism has very little purchase amongst their supporters — or indeed many people at all in Canada — and so the party is keen to avoid any association with Trumpism’s most extreme expression on display during the Capitol riot.

Trudeau’s Liberals meanwhile are suffering through cratering poll numbers as their inability to build up domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity has resulted in one of the slowest rates of vaccine rollout in the developed world. The prime minister is keen for the news cycle to focus on anything other than what is best described, via Canadian slang, as a complete “gong show” of a vaccination campaign.

Tactically, the two parties have put the NDP in check. It will be very difficult for the NDP to oppose civil-liberty-crushing enhancements of the Anti-Terrorism Act by any future Liberal or Tory government, now that the party has decided that when it comes to ideas and groups they don’t like, civil liberties don’t matter.

Bill-C36 and the Right to Dissent

After 9/11, the NDP, as well as allied groups like the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), stressed that the definition of terrorism in Bill-C36 was sufficiently vague so as to make no distinction between political terror and political dissent. This is a perennial problem within anti-terror law around the world. As many scholars of terrorism have pointed out, there has never been an internationally agreed upon definition of terrorism because too many states want to reserve the right to continue to be able to target civilians.

The popular understanding of what constitutes terrorism is pretty much on point: terrorism is this deliberate targeting of civilians. Soldiers killing other soldiers during war may be bad, but that is war, not terrorism. Even unintentionally killing civilians while targeting enemy armed forces is still recognized by ordinary people as a part of war — however horrific, it is not terrorism. Contrary to the familiar aphorism that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist, most people are able to make a clear distinction between these two. The French Resistance thus were in the main not “good terrorists,” but simply not terrorists, for their targets were primarily Nazi or Vichy military and police or infrastructure that supported the German war machine, not civilians.

Terrorism in Bill C-36 is defined as being — and you’ll have to forgive the extended legalese, but it’s essential if we are to understand the dangers posed — any act committed for political or religious purposes that intends to intimidate with regard to security, including economic security, or compel anyone to do anything and intends to kill, cause serious bodily harm, endanger life, cause serious risk to the health or safety of the public, cause serious property damage to, or serious disruption of, an essential service.

There is one exception that is intended to assuage fears that legitimate dissent will be swept up in such an all-encompassing definition. “Serious interference or disruption of essential services” does not count as terrorism if it is the result of lawful advocacy, protest, dissent, or stoppage of work not intended to cause death, serious bodily harm, endangerment, or be a serious risk to the public’s health or safety.

As the CCPA and the NDP pointed out at the time the bill was debated, while there is a clause intended to allay fears that lawful, peaceful protests and strikes do not count as terrorism, the language is sufficiently vague that those engaged in such legitimate dissent could indeed be included. What counts as “serious risk to health or safety,” “serious interference,” or an “essential service”? Many acts of civil dissent involve unlawful acts such as trespassing, causing a disturbance, or resisting arrest.

Wildcat strikes are often illegal. Civil disobedience is, by definition, the disobeying of laws that are felt to be unjust. Activists accept the penalty of arrest and the possibility of jail time. These risks are not merely a possible consequence of dissent, but a key part of the process. In order to broadcast the conviction with which protesters protest, they must show that they are willing, as the popular folk hymn lyric puts it, to go to jail for justice. Sitting at certain lunch counters in the US South in the 1950s may have been peaceful, but it wasn’t legal. No one in their right mind would count such activism as terrorism. But the law theoretically counts it as such.

Amnesty International also critiqued the bill, noting that, in some countries, even peaceful protest is illegal. As the legislation expressly includes acts occurring outside Canada, peaceful Uyghur protests against the Chinese state theoretically counts as terrorism.

The CCPA had also noted that the Supreme Court of Canada has defined “serious bodily harm” as any hurt or injury, whether physical or psychological, that interferes with an individual’s well-being. Today, we might wonder, given that Amazon warehouse staff are categorized as essential workers, whether a strike at a fulfillment center could be described as terrorism.

The issue is not whether such a categorization is likely, but whether it is possible for the words in the law to be read in such a way as to allow for such an interpretation to occur. When an enhancement of the act, Bill C-51, was passed in 2015, in the face of opposition from the NDP, then Tory prime minister Stephen Harper charged that the party’s fears were unfounded. Unease about potential misuse of the law to target legitimate dissent was ridiculous because it could never happen. Trust us, in essence, they said.

How terrorist activity is defined sets the grounds under which the anti-terrorist law permits people to be “preventatively” arrested without a warrant, compelled to answer questions, lose the right to remain silent, and be placed on a terrorist list.

The Canadian Bar Association noted that compulsion to answer questions during investigatory hearings related to terrorism could force journalists to reveal their sources. Bill C-36 allows groups to be placed on the terror list without any advance notice or chance to respond prior to listing, despite the destruction of reputation that may result, and regardless of whether appeals are successful.

The ATA, as noted by the CCPA, is distinct from the War Measures Act, a law dating back to 1914, which gives the federal government license to enact emergency measures in the case of war, invasion, or insurrection. The Act was infamously used to round up suspected terrorists belonging to the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) in 1970 when the group kidnapped Quebec deputy premier Pierre Laporte and British diplomat James Cross.

Having invoked the act, the government made sure to round up leftists and trade unionists across the country in the same dragnet intended for the FLQ. At the time, NDP leader Tommy Douglas criticized the move as being akin to “using a sledgehammer to crack a peanut.” The NDP was the only party to vote against the act.

However, at least the invoking of the War Measures Act was an actual emergency measure. Bill C-36, meanwhile, was an indefinite change to the Criminal Code, the Official Secrets Act, and the Privacy and Evidence Acts. It represents a permanent erosion of civil liberties norms.

The 2015 enhancement of the act would go on to establish a new offense — advocating terrorism — under the Canadian Criminal Code and create the new legal concept of “terrorist propaganda.” This new classification allows judges to order the removal from the Internet material they deem unacceptable.

We now know that the critiques of these bills from NDP and the rest of the Left in Canada were not just theoretical.

Civil Liberties Matter

Following 9/11, the extensive exploitation of relaxed civil liberties was used as a pretext to engage in egregious human rights abuses. Need we remind ourselves of all the Cheneyite and Rumsfeldian terms we added to our vocabularies in those days? Extraordinary rendition, black sites, unlawful enemy combatants, enhanced interrogation. All of these inexcusable abuses depended upon a foundation of widespread willingness to retreat from long-standing liberal principles because getting the bad guys was more important.

Beyond the abuses carried out by security services, anti-terror legislation impacted everyone of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and even Latin American extraction from the height of the War on Terror to this very day. Flying while brown became an ostensible crime.

The irony is that Jagmeet Singh himself, as well as many of his family and friends, being not just brown but Sikh, have been doubly subject to these assaults that are not only a product of systemic racism but also of anti-terror erosion of civil liberties protections.

In 1985, the bombing of a Montreal-Delhi Air India flight by Canadian Khalistani terrorists seeking to create a separate Sikh homeland in the Punjab killed 329 civilians. Since then, ordinary Sikhs in Canada and around the world — entirely unconnected to these violent radicals — have suffered from various indignities and abuses in a way similar to how ordinary Irish people in Britain during the Troubles were regularly caught, as the Pogues put it, “being Irish in the wrong place and at the wrong time.” Indeed it is impossible to envisage how erosion of civil liberties could not be aggressively used most especially against racialized individuals or ethnic minorities of any color.

But it’s not just people of color or white ethnic minorities that are the object of anti-terror excesses. The entirety of the Left has been targeted. Law enforcement and intelligence services, for example, took advantage of vague wording and the loosening of civil liberties protections in post-9/11 anti-terror legislation. In both the US and Canada, a wave of arrests, surveillance, and the use of agent provocateurs was used against environmental and animal rights activists.

This persecution was so extensive that the phenomenon has been described by civil liberties watchdogs such as the US National Lawyers Guild as a “Green Scare,” alluding to the Red Scare of the McCarthy era. Prosecutors have likewise been keen to request “terrorism enhancements” to extend prison sentences or impose more restrictive conditions on those involved in environmental activism.

Watchdog groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Liberty in the UK, and human rights organizations in Hungary, Kenya, Egypt, and Argentina have tracked the exploitation of the unwinding of civil liberties in the wake of 9/11. They note that it has permitted similar crackdowns on the Global Justice Movement, anti-war activists and other left-wing campaigners in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America as well.

One might reply to such observations by saying that some, though not all, of the green and animal rights activism in the Green Scare cases involved groups like the Earth Liberation Front, who did indeed go beyond peaceful protest. These groups’ activities have involved property destruction, from torching Hummers to monkey-wrenching logging equipment.

The point must be underscored that one’s support for or opposition to such forms of activism is immaterial. Recently, climate activist and author Andreas Malm, who has written in these very pages, has published a book entitled How to Blow Up a Pipeline. Does this constitute criminal activity? Does the criminal activity of the Earth Liberation Front amount to terrorism? Do not existing laws against arson and criminal damage suffice? What extends this activity into the realm of terrorism?

Whether or not there should even be a terrorist list, there are few people in Canada and around the world who would not concur that the sort of organizations that have up till now been on the country’s terror list, such as al-Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS, and Aum Shinrikyo, are the sort of groups who do indeed target civilians. We may complain that US and Canadian government support for authoritarian regimes and indeed non-state terrorist groups in Latin America and the Middle East, including even some of these very groups, might logically require these governments also to be placed on such lists, as well. But these groups are absolutely terrorist.

Meanwhile, the NDP’s rationale for placing the Proud Boys on the terror list was that their involvement in the storming of the US Capitol was an act of “domestic terrorism” and that they promote white supremacist views. Both of these charges are different in kind than those that obtain in the cases of ISIS and their cohort. Furthermore, acquiescing to their use as a rationale — or worse, celebrating their effectiveness as a justification — for state censorship is to disregard the slippery slope they represent. The Canadian government is setting a dangerous precedent that may haunt the Left.

Chauvinistic Speech vs. Racist Violence

The Canadian government has condemned the Proud Boys for espousing misogynist, Islamophobic, antisemitic, and white supremacist ideologies, and for associating “with white supremacist groups.” The wording is interesting here because neither the NDP nor the Liberal government is calling the group a white supremacist organization.

In certain academic and activist circles in the last few years, it has become common to hear in Canada, the United States, Western Europe, and the antipodes characterized as white supremacist societies. The term white supremacy is increasingly being used as a synonym for generic, everyday racism, rather than — as the term has historically been used and is still popularly understood as meaning — a particularly pernicious and extreme form of racism that seeks to impose racial hierarchy at the barrel of a gun.

A laundry list of white supremacists includes Germany’s National Socialists and neo-Nazis everywhere, the US Confederacy and its latter-day sympathizers such as the KKK, and apartheid South Africa and its nostalgists. The overly broad use of the term deprives it of meaning.

We immediately see the problem of such linguistic mission creep when we hear a group or person described by these same academics and activists as being an “actual white supremacist” or an “actual neo-Nazi.” Adding the modifier actual is a concession that the term’s overuse and frequent hyperbolic register has created slippage between its denotation and connotation.

However, the Canadian government does need to be at least somewhat more precise in its wording than activists (even if with respect to the term “terrorism” they deliberately engage in their own linguistic legerdemain). If the rationale for the Proud Boys listing was that they are a white supremacist organization, and they can argue that they are not one, then the group might have pretty solid grounds for an appeal.

We can contrast the Proud Boys case with two neo-Nazi groups that were added to the Canadian terror list in 2019, Blood and Honour and its armed wing, Combat 18. Combat 18 derives its name from the initials of Adolf Hitler; A and H are the first and eighteenth letters of the alphabet.

Blood and Honour (B&H) takes its name from a slogan of the Hitler Youth. B&H is a decades-old network of white nationalists who organize white-power concerts and publish a magazine of the same name. It grew out of splits in the 1980s within the main British neo-Nazi political party of the period, the National Front, and was founded by the lead singer of explicitly white supremacist punk band Skrewdriver, Ian Stuart Donaldson.

Its symbology includes classic neo-Nazi images such as the SS Totenkopf (“death’s head”) and the Triskelion (three interlocking sevens, representing the “final victory” over the anti-Christ, whose number is supposedly 666). The Triskelion became popular in neo-Nazi circles after its use in a white disc on a red background — à la the swastika on the banner of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) — by the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), or Afrikaner Resistance Movement, a South African white supremacist group that formed in the 1970s.

B&H promotes the fourteen-word mantra: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,” sometimes described simply as “the fourteen words.” There is no way it can be argued that the network is anything other than a white supremacist, neo-Nazi organization. (While B&H is supposedly committed to promotion of its ideology through music and propaganda, there is little distinction in membership between it and Combat 18). The network is in fact the exemplar of what a neo-Nazi group is. The Canadian government is on very safe grounds in describing these groups in this way.

The Canadian Bar Association argued in its critique of Bill C-36 that the “political, religious or ideological purpose” of an activity “does not add anything to the definition and should be deleted” from the legislation. As the CCPA also argued at the time of the law’s passage, it is “the nature of the criminal act that defined the offence, not the motivation behind it.” The white supremacist and neo-Nazi ideology of Blood and Honour and Combat 18 only describes their beliefs; they are not why the groups are listed as terrorist organizations.

The reason they are listed as terrorist organizations is because they have perpetrated terrorism. They have carried out multiple bombings, murders — especially targeting immigrants — and the assassination of a German politician. In 2012, members of the two groups firebombed a hostel occupied by Romani families in the Czech Republic.

Drawing a Line in the Sand

Defending the right to speak for people whose views we find abhorrent does not ever mean excusing their violence. Because of a street-fighting division of the Proud Boys, nuance is required in parsing the case of the organization.

Due to the recording of an assault on an antifa counter-protester at the 2017 March 4 Trump rally in Berkeley, California, the attacker, a commercial diver named Kyle Chapman, gained some notoriety in Proud Boy circles.

Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, getting a kick out of Chapman’s actions, invited Chapman to join the club. Chapman soon established the Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights (FOAK) as the Proud Boys’ “tactical defense arm.” The internal details of how this played out and who knew what at which point are unclear, but multiple statements by Chapman show that he is unambiguously a white nationalist and antisemite.

In a defense of the Proud Boys on its website in 2017 against accusations that the group is “alt-right,” the fervently pro-Israel McInnes denounced attempts at infiltration from such groups, their “obsession with Hitler” and their antisemitism. He insists the Proud Boys, with, he claims, many black, Latino, and Asian members and branches in Japan and Israel, are just a drinking club, an “Elk Lodge.” Explaining his claim about the daylight between Proud Boys and other alt-right groups, McInnes has stated:

The two big differences we have with them is the “JQ” [Jewish Question] and racial identity politics. They think the Jews are responsible for America’s problems and they think “Western” is inseparable from “white.” They don’t see a future for non-whites in America. FUCK THAT. We reject all of those things. We openly encourage Jewish and non-white members and want them to know they’re at home with us. Black and Jewish conservatives have to put up with a lot of shit and the last thing we want is for them to feel uncomfortable when hanging out with their drinking buddies.

Nevertheless, he goes on to suggest that if Proud Boys members do want to get more political, they should join FOAK, which he insists also isn’t alt-right. Yet Chapman has described FOAK as providing protection for “our right-wing brethren” through “street activism, preparation, defense and confrontation.”

FOAK has provided security at public-speaking events for conservatives such as Ann Coulter and Alt-Lite figures like Milo Yiannopoulos, and has engaged in street battles with antifa activists on the streets of Portland, armed with batons, knives, pepper spray, and tasers. This is the next “logical step” in the development of their “pro-Western” movement.

After an assault conviction related to the Berkeley Trump rally, Chapman has been, depending on the source reporting subsequent events, either demoted or ejected. Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio claims that Chapman left in 2017 to form “his own thing.”

He applied to rejoin in October 2020 but was rejected. Donald Trump’s loss on November 6 appears to have immediately provoked widespread infighting on the hard right. Chapman has launched a volley of racial slurs against Tarrio via online channels, and has announced that he wants to take over the Proud Boys and turn it into an explicitly white supremacist organization and to “re-focus on white genocide.”

It is worth noting here that championing free speech does not equal counseling pacifism or acquiescence to right-wing aggression. If a group of Nazis (or police or Pinkertons or anyone at all) attempts to physically shut down a left-wing event or trade union meeting, defending oneself with violence does not seem at all unreasonable. Advocating a staunch defense of civil liberties does not translate into a kumbaya approach in dealing with rightist violence. At this point, punching Nazis or in any other way meeting violence perpetrated against the Left in kind is entirely warranted.

Much of the relationship between McInnes’s “drinking club” and its more militant elements is murky. What is very clear is that even if McInnes and his Proud Boys say they weren’t initially interested in the alt-right or street fighting, the street-fighting alt-right were very much interested in the Proud Boys.

Given the clear links to genuine white nationalists and repeated participation of its “tactical defense arm” in clashes with antifa activists, the classification of the group as extremist by the FBI in 2018 seems reasonable. A watchful eye kept on a group that started out as deeply conservative and may not be far-right but is certainly far-right-curious seems the right thing to do. FOAK in particular warrants careful monitoring.

We Need Clarity and Consistency

If street fighting is sufficient to warrant going beyond careful monitoring toward placement on a terrorism list, with all the social and financial immobilization that entails, then antifa activists, and by extension the organizations they belong to, tick the same street-fighting box.

To correctly say that antifa is not an organization but more akin to a movement or even just a tactic, probably wouldn’t convince any court. The risk of blowback is a concern that should be taken very, very seriously. The categorization of the Proud Boys as a terrorist organization due to the street fighting of some of its members — even though the organization says it formally discourages such activity — could very well boomerang in unpleasant ways for the Left. Such a categorization would make it difficult to convince a judge that the various anarchist affinity groups or other left-wing organizations that have engaged in antifa street fighting are not likewise terrorist groups.

The Proud Boys have not engaged in anything approaching the civilian murders perpetrated by the likes of al-Qaeda or ISIS or Blood and Honour and Combat 18.

The participation of Proud Boys members in the legal, peaceful pro-Trump protest outside the US Capitol was not terrorism, even if its goals of preventing confirmation of the presidential election were antidemocratic and thus abhorrent. Protesting democracy is, one has to grudgingly accept, legitimate use of speech rights in any free society. And the storming of the Capitol, which included some Proud Boys members, may have involved property destruction but was not necessarily terrorism.

We must nevertheless take very seriously the potential for the murder of civilians — including elected representatives — that briefly existed while the rioters were occupying buildings in the Capitol.

Police officer Brian Sicknick, who died following injuries incurred while tussling with protesters, appears not to have been as deliberate as was initially thought. His death may have been a result of pepper spray or bear spray deployed in the crowd. Investigators are struggling to build a murder case. However tragic, its apparent accidental nature means we cannot categorize this as terrorism.

However, the weapons some rioters brought with them and what appears to have been a hunt inside the building for politicians, does suggest that — had they succeeded and found figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) — there could have been many more deaths than actually occurred. AOC subsequently recounted to the media that she really felt that she was facing death. Had she or any of other members of the house died, the Capitol riot would, of course, have been terrorism. The two pipe bombs found within blocks of the Capitol and safely detonated by bomb squads likewise count as terrorism.

But can we directly tie these two occurrences to the Proud Boys? Evangelical Christians also took part, as did the Boogaloo Movement, QAnon believers, the Three Percenter militia group, and Republican Party officials and donors. The Canadian government has not added any of these organizations to its terror list.

If evidence emerges to suggest Proud Boy participants in the Capitol riots were the main orchestrators of the hunt for politicians in the building and laid the pipe bombs, then a case, if a weak one, could be made that the group has engaged in terrorism. This is not, however, what has been alleged.

Donald Trump supporters outside the US Capitol Building following a “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

At this point, the most that we can say is that some Proud Boys took part in looting, vandalism, and the occupation of a government building. The real horror of the day was that this large crowd appears to have been earnest in its attempt to overthrow American democracy by preventing the confirmation of Joe Biden. Equally abhorrent is the fact that the riot was encouraged by then-president, Donald Trump, and that it was endorsed by some members of the Republican Party and possibly aided by some members of law enforcement.

But it was not terrorism.

The consequence of the desire to put the Proud Boys in their place is that a precedent has now been set by the Canadian government. Encouraged by its social-democratic opposition, the ruling Liberal party has made a decision that will result in establishing great swathes of leftist activism categorizable as terrorism, in Canada and, because courts do look to precedent set in other democratic countries, elsewhere too.

The 2020 protests attempting to block construction of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline through unceded Wet’suwet’en First Nation territory in British Columbia, and the accompanying rail blockades that sprang up across the country in solidarity, can now be categorized as terrorism.

If the occupation of a government building counts as terrorism, then the shutdown of passenger and freight rail operations must be a fortiori so too counted. As a result of the loose definition of terrorism within the Anti-Terrorism Act, this possibility already existed. Up until now, however, law enforcement and government have been largely reluctant to take advantage of such vagueness outside of some edge cases on the green left. But now it becomes much more likely that the act will be exploited to crack down on the Left more broadly.

The Left may be able to laugh off facile comparisons made by former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker between the 2011 occupation of the state Capitol in protest against his efforts to severely restrict collective bargaining for public sector workers and the 2021 US Capitol occupation. But will courts?

Wisconsin protesters were overwhelmingly peaceful. But not all of them. Republican and Democratic state senators report receiving dozens of death threats at the time, and one protester who had emailed such threats, Katherine Windels, also pleaded guilty to making a bomb threat.

We would be right to adamantly insist that she was in no way representative of the vast majority of protesters. It is wrong to tar Windels and all the Wisconsin protesters with the same brush. But we can imagine that the majority of the US Capitol protesters would say the same of their fellows who brought weapons along. And we can be sure that a great many judges would struggle to tell the difference between the two cases except with respect to political beliefs.

Once again, in an effort to signal their righteousness with respect to the Bad Guys, sections of the Left have abandoned long-held civil liberties principles. How different then are they — with respect to principle, if not with respect to deed — to those who during the War on Terror also gave civil liberties a good waterboarding, but with respect to a different set of Bad Guys?