We all need to be on our guard against hate and extremism

Vigilamus pro te. We stand guard for you.

These lofty words, which are at the heart of our national anthem and form the motto of the Canadian Armed Forces, are now being called into question in light of the report of an advisory committee on systemic racism and discrimination in the ranks. Indeed, the report raises the question of who exactly “we” and “you” are.

Certainly, the “we” and the “you” are not indigenous peoples. Or black or brown or LGBT people. Or people with disabilities. While noting that the Forces seek to recruit people from underrepresented groups, the report insists that the military too often fails to recognize, accept and accommodate the diversity of members once they are recruited. .

And unlike the unwelcoming environment for members of racialized communities and other underrepresented groups, the atmosphere is at the very least tolerant of white supremacists and others inspired by ideologically motivated violent extremism. The leadership insists it maintains a zero-tolerance approach to extremism, but the panel detailed the Forces’ failure to detect extremists within its ranks.

As bad as all of this sounds, it’s not a problem with the Canadian Armed Forces. Or at least not just with the military. The Forces are, after all, an integral part of Canadian society. And the problem comes from us, from us and from you, because it affects and afflicts soldiers and civilians.

Indeed, a look at hate crime statistics released last week by B’nai Brith and the Toronto Police Service reveals that the Forces, far from being an aberration, fit right in with the rest of Canadian culture.

According to the B’nai Brith report, 2021 turned out to be a banner year, with 2,799 anti-Semitic incidents in Canada, or almost eight a day. This represents a 7.2% increase from 2020. More worryingly, 2021 saw an astonishing 733% increase in violent incidents compared to 2020.

Toronto police hate crime statistics tell a similar story. Police reported 257 incidents in 2021, a 22% increase from 2020. Jews were most often targeted, but 2021 also saw a dramatic increase in the number of incidents involving members of the Asian community.

It’s not a pretty picture, but the reality is probably even uglier given that hate incidents are drastically underreported. According to an analysis of 2019 incident reports from Statistics Canada, less than 1% of hate crimes are reported to police.

And we can’t fight extremism and hate if we don’t even know it. The Canadian Forces report therefore recommends improving coordination and cooperation between military, police and intelligence agencies. This is something that should be replicated with police departments and intelligence agencies across the country.

Since the under-reporting of hate crimes is partly the result of community members’ reluctance to contact the police, the police would also benefit from improved relationships and increased trust with the most vulnerable communities. affected by extremism. This can be achieved, in part, by working closely with anti-racism advocates who often have better relationships with targeted groups.

The lack of a clear and consistent definition of hate crimes also hampers law enforcement efforts to identify and counter extremism. We need to ensure that all police employ a standardized interpretation of what constitutes a hate crime.

As the Internet is now a primary driver of extremism and radicalization of soldiers and civilians, B’nai Brith recommends that the federal government work in partnership with social media companies to develop an action plan to countering hate online.

The federal government announced in late March the formation of an expert advisory group to recommend legislation to tackle harmful online content. Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act previously prohibited the use of federally regulated telecommunications to send hate messages, but concerns over free speech led to its repeal in 2014 – before the extent of online radicalization is appreciated.

Ottawa should therefore develop and enact legislation to replace section 13, while ensuring that it respects the fundamental freedoms of Canadians.

Finally, any effort to counter extremism is likely to fail if individuals do not play a role. Canadians cannot just sit back and wait for politicians and police to fix the problem, but rather must actively engage with them. Indeed, the Organization for the Prevention of Violence notes that the effort to counter extremism is most effective when viewed as the collective responsibility of the community.

After all, when it comes to protecting Canada and Canadians from extremism, we all need to be on our guard.

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