Designating a group as being a terrorist organization and adding it to the list of terrorist groups in the Criminal Code is serious business. Once a group is on that list, every aspect of its organization becomes criminalized in Canada, from fundraising to organizing efforts.
The process for adding groups to the terrorist list in the Criminal Code should not be rushed, taken lightly, or politicized. Unfortunately, Canada already has a record of rushing groups onto the list, and the process has become hopelessly politicized.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre have been playing political football in the House of Commons for weeks over the status of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as protests have gripped Iran in response to the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody. The treatment of women, and all citizens for that matter, under Iran’s regime and their “morality police” has come into world focus, and nations are imposing sanctions against Iran and some of its military branches in response.
The IRGC has been designated as a terrorist organization by several countries, including the United States, yet the Trudeau government is reticent to do so.
While the Liberals have taken steps to prevent some members of the IRGC from entering Canada, they still insist on stopping short of declaring the group a terrorist organization. It's not as if the government hasn’t had time to think about it. A parliamentary motion to declare the IRGC as a terrorist organization was passed in the House of Commons in 2018, but the government never followed through with it.
After the Jan. 6 riots on Capitol Hill in the United States in 2021, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh called on the government to immediately declare the Proud Boys a terrorist organization. All of the parties supported the motion, including the Conservatives. While the motion was non-binding, the Proud Boys were added to the list of terrorist organizations in the Criminal Code shortly after.
While the Proud Boys as a group were hardly harmless, did they really warrant status as a terrorist organization? In a world with thousands of groups and organizations with violent and or questionable motives, only dozens have been found to be dangerous enough to add to the terrorist list in Canada’s Criminal Code.
Members of Parliament are by nature guided by political motivations. They are reactive, often bombastic, and at times can let their partisanship blind them to the point where they lose focus on the public’s interest. This happened when they rushed the Proud Boys onto the list of terrorist organizations. While the Proud Boys are not worthy of much sympathy, they don’t rate as a terrorist organization in Canada by any reasonable measure. A bad precedent was set when MPs from all parties managed to get a minor group of extremists added to the terrorist list.
If Parliament gets in the habit of adding groups to the terrorist list without proper oversight and consultation from intelligence agencies, that power can and likely will be abused.
Imagine if another Freedom Convoy-type protest breaks out. The government may not want to use the Emergencies Act to deal with it next time; it may add the organizing group or groups to the terrorist list in the Criminal Code. Then it could seize assets and arrest organizers just as effectively as if it had used the Emergencies Act, and wouldn’t even be bound by an inquiry on the action later.
What if a future Conservative government adds a group like Extinction Rebellion to the list and then chases donors to the group?
Political games are being played with the designation of terrorist groups in Canada and they are dangerous. Groups are being added to the list too lightly due to the political climate, and other groups are being kept off the list for political pride.
Those games are putting people at serious risk both in Canada and abroad.