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18 March 2015

Don’t let Justin Trudeau’s liberalism blind you – Canada has a problem with far right extremism

As in the UK and the US, misogynistic and racist ideas are spreading. 

By Julia Rampen

In the televised version of The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the novel by Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, Canada is depicted as a sanctuary. In one particularly evocative scene, Moira, an escapee from the theo-fascist state of Gilead, arrives at a refugee registration point. The camera captures her bewilderment as the gentle Canadians treat her as a human being, and welcome her back to liberal society.

The dystopia of The Handmaid’s Tale tuned in perfectly with the anxiety of liberals in Brexit Britain and a Trumpian United States. But to follow the series’ own logic, it seems highly like some of the Gilead zealots would be establishing cells in Oakville and Hamilton (incidentally, both filming locations for The Handmaid’s Tale). After all, in real life, the links between the alt right movement surging through the United States and Canada are plain for all to see.

The streets and highways of Toronto are unpretentiously multicultural, as befits a city where more than half of residents say they belong to a visible minority. Online, though, a different community is forming. The Soldiers of Odin, a movement founded in Finland in opposition to the refugees of 2015, has 13,400 Facebook Likes on its Canadian page, and branches across the country. The Proud Boys, a men’s Western chauvinist movement founded in New York City, has a significant presence in Canada. While Canada’s mainstream right remains remarkably liberal on immigration compared to its peers in the Western Anglosphere, xenophobia and Islamophobia bind many of the alt-right groups together. Indeed, it was the Canadian-based outfit Rebel Media that hired two of the most notorious right-wing commentators in Britain: Katie Hopkins and Tommy Robinson.

In alt-right groups, anti-immigration and white or Western supremacist feeling is often blurred with misogyny, and here, too, Canada has form. In the 1989 Montreal massacre, a gunman killed 14 students, shouting: “I hate feminists”. According to Justin Trudeau’s biographer, Alan Hustak, it was after this event that the future prime minister first became active in the feminist movement. In April 2018, nearly three decades later, a van driver mounted a pavement in Toronto and killed 10 people. The accused driver was heard to praise Elliot Rodger, who killed six people in 2014. Both belonged to the online community of “incels”, men who have translated their unwanted virginity into a hatred of women.

The Toronto killings made headlines around the world – not least because of Canada’s image as a peaceful and amiable nation. One month on, it is nearby Mississauga’s turn in the news. A modern city of condominiums and suburbs with a large South Asian population, Mississauga embodies the dreams of the hard-working “New Canadian”. This week, a home-made bomb exploded at one of the city’s many Indian restaurants, injuring 15. Although the motives of the attackers remain unclear, many have interpreted it as a deliberate attempt to terrorise the Indian-Canadian community.

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Those excusing or dismissing far-right extremism often point to the real fear of terrorism, or culture clash. Yet Canada has succeeded in preventing large-scale Islamist terrorist attacks, the kind that the far right propaganda feeds off. Its integration of immigrants is a model for the Western world. The fact that extremism can still thrive suggests it is time for this complacency to end.

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