Right Wing Extremism in Canada: An Environmental Scan

Project Title

Right wing extremism in Canada

Lead / Author

Dr. Barbara Perry and Ryan Scrivens

Relevant Dates

Published September 2016.


The authors set out to provide an overview of the right wing extremism (RWE) movement in Canada, including an analysis of membership, distribution and activities. Specifically, they aim to identify the factors that shape the development of RWE groups and those that make them more or less likely to plan, engage or incite particular types of violence towards communities and physical targets.

A central motivation for the study is to address knowledge gaps within contemporary social science and broader consideration of violent extremism in Canada. The authors argue that the national conversation largely overlooks right wing extremists, especially following the 9/11 terrorist attaches which shifted the attention of government, security services and the general public to terrorism involving groups like Al Qaeda, to the detriment of addressing right wing extremism.

The authors define RWE in Canada specifically as a loose movement, one focusing on a racially, ethnically and sexually defined nationalism, often framed in terms of white power and threats posed by groups such as non-Whites, Jews, immigrants, homosexuals and feminists. In addition, the authors note that government is perceived to be illegitimate, serving interests of such groups at the expense of Whites, with extremists advocating both offensive and defensive means to preserve their heritage and ‘homeland.’

In order to focus the scan, the authors concentrate on factors related to group development such as: (1) saliency/immediacy of the perceived grievance, as evident from the intensity of the rhetoric of the hate group; (2) presence and visibility of target group(s); (3) organizational capacity of the hate group; (4) historical or contemporary patterns of mainstream racism, xenophobia, or ethnocentrism; (5) identifiable resistance to racism, xenophobia, or ethnocentrism (e.g., law enforcement activity, human rights activity, etc.). Data collection involved both archival and primary research with the authors relying on website analysis; court records; a media scan; and interviews with law enforcement and intelligence communities, community activists and hate group activists.

Select Findings

The authors highlight the importance of examining RWE at a national level in Canada, finding that such activity is both more diffuse and numerous than previously thought. Data collected by the authors suggests that there are at least 100 white supremacist and Neo-Nazi groups across Canada and another 30,000 individuals involved in ‘sovereigntist’ causes. Furthermore, the authors note that their project likely does not account for those individuals and groups that have moved underground and lone wolves that may not be visible at all.

The authors develop three classes of right wing extremists: variants of white supremacists and neo-Nazis; sovereigntists; and, a category which includes ideologues, gurus and lone wolves. As presented in the study, White supremacists and neo-Nazism is based upon Christian identity theory which claims the White race to be the direct descendants of Ancient Israel and God’s chosen people, which places Whites above all other races and is particularly anti-Semitic. Sovereigntists, also known as “Free Men”, while diffuse and decentralized, are united by their common rejection of federal state authority. They believe that they are bound by natural, not human law. Ideologues, gurus and lone wolves, the third RWE category put forward by the authors, concerns extremists not affiliated with any particular group. Instead, ideologues and gurus provide ideological support to and inspiration for RWE groups. Lone wolves interact with RWE group content on their own and are not part of an organization.

Violence perpetrated by RWE groups and individuals is found through the scan to be sporadic, unplanned and opportunistic, with perpetrators classifying these acts as reactive violence, in response to the behaviours or speech of the target individual or group. As such, the authors argue that RWE violence in Canada differs from that in the United States or Europe, with forms of violence that are highly methodical and well planned. Violence is also found to be more individualistic than collective in Canada, involving one to a maximum of four perpetrators. The study states that given the unpredictable nature of this kind of violence it is both difficult to anticipate and counter. To curtail the activities, impact and popularity of and violence associated with RWE, the authors recommend a multi-agency effort that both acknowledges and responds to this threat. Such an approach would see law enforcement partner with anti-hate community organizations and human rights activists to facilitate the sharing of ideas and knowledge.

Further Information

Dr. Barbara Perry

Ryan Scrivens

Related Initiatives

Dr. Barbara Perry and Ryan Scrivens, “Uneasy Alliances: A Look at the Right-Wing Extremist Movement in Canada,” 2016.

Dr. Richard B. Parent and James O Ellis III, "The Future of Right-Wing Terrorism in Canada," 2016.

Samuel Tanner and Aurélie Campana, "The Process of Radicalization: Right-Wing Skinheads in Quebec," 2014.



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