A Canadian civil rights group has called on Australia to follow their country’s example and designate far-right extremist groups as terrorist entities.
Canada last week became the first country to proscribe the Proud Boys on its terror list. It also proscribed neo-Nazi groups the Atomwaffen Division and The Base, along with several affiliates of IS and al-Qaeda.
Bernie Farber, the chair of the Canadian Anti Hate Network, said Canada had provided “a real service” to other countries in designating the Proud Boys and other far-right groups, and Australia should “absolutely” follow suit.
Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio wears a hat that says The War Boys at a rally in September. Source: AAP
“I really hope and I really pray that … Australian politicians and American politicians and others follow Canada's lead in this matter,” he told SBS News.
“This is a multiple threat that knows no borders and knows no oceans,” Mr Farber added.
“We know that the Christchurch killer had been in touch with certain extreme elements within Canadian terrorist groups. They all have contact, and social media makes it so easy to do that, whether it's Telegram or Parler or whatever.”
It was important for democratic countries to work in unison, Mr Farber said.
“We need to be on top of it together - there's power and strength in that. All I can do is urge Australia to take the action that Canada took. It's important for the safety of all of our citizens.”
Mr Farber said the 2017 Quebec city mosque shooting, in which six people were killed, still horrified many Canadians and the Christchurch shooting provided evidence of the growth of the extreme far-right.
“Australia faced one of the worst, if not the worst racist murderers in decades. And I think politicians would be absolutely correct to say, an Australian did this, and did it in our part of the world, and (consider) who else is out there looking to plan the same type of thing,” Mr Farber said.
“When you do this kind of thing (proscription) - when you put out messages that governments will no longer stand for it, and that we are going to take action, these are messages that people will listen to.”
Mr Farber said Canada’s designation already had groups such as the Proud Boys scrambling - with some of their networks shut down in anticipation of the decision.
“The very rumour that the Proud Boys were going to be put on the list three weeks ago closed down three chapters in Canada,” he said.
“Australia should do the same thing.”
Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio during a march into Freedom Plaza, in Washington, DC on 12 December 2020. Source: AAP
Australia is the only country in the Five-Eyes intelligence network to not have any far-right extremist groups on its terrorism list.
Levi West, Director of Terrorism Studies at Charles Sturt University, said while the designation of far-right extremist groups was “overdue”, there were many complications.
In Australia, certain legal standards need to be met including that the Home Affairs Minister is satisfied a group is directly or indirectly engaged in preparing, planning, assisting or fostering the doing of a terrorist act, or advocates for a terrorist act.
The minister also relies on advice from ASIO, which also considers factors such as the group's ideology, links to other terror groups, and importantly, whether like-minded countries have also listed them.
“It's not as simple as saying, ‘because you flew a swastika flag and did some Hitler salutes we proscribed you as a terrorist organisation’. There's a bit more to it than that,” Mr West told SBS News.
“And it presents a really, really difficult challenge ... how you balance issues around free speech, freedom of association, with basic ideas of keeping the community safe.”
Mr West suspects the impetus for any decision on designation of far-right groups would be a federal parliamentary inquiry, which is due to look into the issue of far-right and Islamist terrorist organisations in the coming months.
“What the inquiry will hopefully do is provide a public evidence base, upon which a decision can be made,” he said.
“My sense is that submissions to the inquiry will make a pretty comprehensive case of the nature of the problem in Australia; its transnational character as the linkages between the Proud Boys in Australia and the Proud Boys in Canada and the Proud Boys in the United States. That will then make it very difficult to not proscribe somebody.”
A designation would significantly hamper the activities of listed organisations - it will criminalise directing its moves, being a member of the group or recruiting for it, as would providing or receiving training with the group or funding or receiving funding from it.
Anyone who associates with a member of a listed organisation intending to support them could also be prosecuted.
Mr West said another crucial consideration was the powerful message a designation sends about what is considered acceptable in society.
Members of the far-right group the Proud Boys gesture the 'white power' hand sign as they gather in Freedom Plaza, in Washington. Source: EPA
“The parliament in a bipartisan manner says the organisation - because they believe in and advocate these ideas - are fundamentally unacceptable to Australian society,
“And that's, in some ways, a no brainer.”
In a statement to SBS News, the Department of Home Affairs said the listing of extremist groups as terrorist organisations is under constant review by security and law enforcement agencies.
“The minister takes advice from security and law enforcement agencies as to whether organisations meet legal thresholds, and whether they should be prioritised for listing,” a spokesperson said.
“It is the long standing practice of the Government not to provide a running commentary on organisations that may be considered for listing or the time-frames in which they will be considered.”