The RCMP has charged a 19-year-old with terrorism, alleging he participated in the activities of a neo-Nazi terrorist group. It is the first time Canada’s antiterrorism laws have been directly applied to such an organization, a legal expert says.
Seth Bertrand, 19, filed an online application to join a terrorist entity, the Atomwaffen Division (also known as National Socialist Order), and offered his skills and commitment to the group, the RCMP said in a statement released on Friday.
The Mounties also said Mr. Bertrand “committed various hate motivated offences” in the Windsor area between February and March of last year.
Mr. Bertrand faces a charge of participation in a terrorist group, which carries a possible jail sentence of up to 10 years. Bobby Russon, a Windsor lawyer who said he represents Mr. Bertrand, said he would not comment on the case.
Police and prosecutors in Canada have been under pressure to pursue terrorism charges against white supremacists and hate groups since at least 2017, after a man shot and killed six people in a Quebec City mosque. The killer was convicted of murder, but he was never charged with terrorism offences.
Michael Nesbitt, a law professor at the University of Calgary, said in an interview that no one has been charged under the act with being a member of a neo-Nazi group until now.
In a recent blog post, Mr. Nesbitt said his research shows that 59 of the 62 individuals charged under the act have been alleged to have been associated with or influenced by the terrorist group al-Qaeda or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
But violent extremism takes many forms, Mr. Nesbitt said, adding that law-enforcement officials need to show they can wield the anti-terrorism legislation against different kinds of threats.
“The law has to apply equally, and it has to be seen to apply equally,” he said. Police and prosecutors must show “the law has the capacity to deal with not just al-Qaeda or ISIS, but whatever violent hateful ideology” exists.
The Atomwaffen is part of a network of violent white-supremacist organizations that urge their members to foment a race war with random strikes against members of minority communities.
The federal government listed it as a terrorist group in February, 2021, saying the organization “calls for acts of violence against racial, religious, and ethnic groups, and informants, police, and bureaucrats, to prompt the collapse of society.”
According to court documents, Mr. Bertrand lives in Windsor. He was charged with several crimes there in early 2021, including “trying to incite hate against an identifiable group, namely [the] LGBTQ community.”
He faces mischief charges related to allegations that he vandalized a local transgender centre and a home that flew a gay-pride flag. Those charges have not been proven in court.
Patrik Hermansson, a researcher for the British organization Hope not Hate, says his anti-hate group has infiltrated online white-supremacist forums. In some of them, teenagers from around the world as young as 15 are encouraging each other to target minority groups.
Mr. Hermansson recently issued a report saying one such forum member bragged last year about vandalizing a transgender support centre in Ontario and later circulated pictures of the damage.
“There’s a lot of animosity against trans people,” Mr. Hermansson said in an interview. “For the far right, they are always interested in latching onto issues that they think people care about, as a way to gain supporters to become more mainstream.”
Earlier this week, the head of Canada’s domestic spy agency said social media, conspiracy theories and major disruptive events like the pandemic can accelerate the spread of hate.
Threats are “constantly evolving, fuelled by extreme views around race, gender, power and authority,” said David Vigneault, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
On Wednesday at the University of British Columbia, he said marginalized and minority communities are at risk. “Fear is particularly acute for Indigenous peoples, people of colour, religious minorities, members of the LGBTQ2+ communities.”
He noted the case of a family in London, Ont., that was killed last year in a pickup truck attack. Police said they were targeted because they were Muslim.
A 20-year-old man was charged at the scene with four counts of first-degree murder. Days later, prosecutors said they would also pursue terrorism charges in the truck attack.
Court documents show police believe the suspect may have been reading neo-Nazi content on the Internet.
Parliament passed the Anti-Terrorism Act into law after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
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