Canada’s Terrorist Designation Adds 'Exclamation Point' To Five Eyes Information Sharing: Experts

While The Proud Boys might find themselves facing frozen assets and stiffer legal penalties in Canada, the new terrorism designation means something different on the other side of the border. 

Peter Smith
Canadian Anti-Hate Network

Questions swirled as The Proud Boys joined more nefarious names like Atomwaffen Division, The Base, and the Russian Imperial Movement on Canada’s list of terrorist organizations. It’s a move that could have far-reaching impacts on intelligence gathering both in and outside the country.

The designations dominated headlines last week, as the new rules will allow organizational bank accounts to be seized, members can face trouble travelling to and from Canada, and more.

“It is not a crime to be listed. However, one of the consequences of being listed is that the entity's property can be the subject of seizure/restraint and/or forfeiture,” the ministry writes on its website. “In addition, institutions such as banks, brokerages, etc. are subject to reporting requirements with respect to an entity's property and must not allow those entities to access the property.” 

It is also an offence to knowingly participate in or contribute to any activity of a designated terrorist group, according to the government, though this participation is only an offence if its purpose is to enhance the ability of any terrorist group to facilitate or carry out terrorist activity.

The impacts on the Proud Boys in the United States are a little less clear according to the experts. 

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“Let's say if the US were to designate the Proud Boys as a terrorist group for one, we don't have a domestic terrorism statute,” Seth Stodder told the Canadian Anti-Hate Network during an interview. “We could figure out a way to do so, but there's all kinds of first amendment issues that would probably step in here.”

Stodder is a lawyer and the former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security under Obama who now teaches National Security Law at the University of South Carolina.

When it comes to taking action, he believes this could lend itself to better cooperation between law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border, but stresses that even with recent political troubles, there is already a strong allyship there. 

“Obviously, the Canadian-US relations got more tense during the Trump administration, from top to bottom all the way from Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump just didn't get along,” Stodder said. All kinds of policy differences between us from everything from climate change to softwood lumber to dairy farms, and to obviously our border and COVID.”

Despite the loud and raucous nature of the past four years of American diplomacy, when it comes to security, Stodder thinks this may have had little impact when it comes to intelligence sharing between the RCMP, FBI, border agents, and more. 

“The US and Canada are so close operationally that I don't know when the designation of Proud Boys as a terrorist group, you know, adds or subtracts that close cooperative relationship between our law enforcement and intelligence agencies,” he said. Adding, “our intelligence services work closely together as part of the Five Eyes.”

The Five Eyes are a collection of western intelligence services from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States that formed after the Second World War. A report by the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute and Canadian International Council called it the most “exclusive intelligence sharing club in the world.”

Ultimately, Stodder feels that the biggest change will be the adding of an “exclamation point” to already existing intelligence-gathering operations in the US.


The Transnational Element

A terrorism designation can carry some legal consequences in Canada, but one national security expert says the biggest impact will be found in the international community.

"It gives Canadian security and law enforcement agencies greater investigative tools to mitigate the threats south of the border by not having Canadians participate," Huda Mukbil told the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. "Canadians, knowing that if they do participate in activities here in Canada, like glorifying violence or any activities here in Canada in support of the proud boys and any activities to support members of that group in the US would be considered a terrorist offence."

Mukbil, a former senior intelligence officer at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), also served as a strategic national security advisor for the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) and now works as a consultant providing advice on how to close racial and gender gaps in the Canadian national security and intelligence community. She says that an increased emphasis on information sharing is how the designation will be best served when working against these types of organizations.

“Far-right white supremacist groups do operate like Al Qaeda and ISIS,” she said. They're sharing, connecting, exchanging information about techniques.”

Just as these groups are transnational, so is the white supremacist movement. The Base and Atomwaffen Division both have international cells, including here in Canada. The prevalence of encrypted apps has created truly decentralized organizations with disparate membership and cells that communicate with ease.

“It becomes part of the CBSA mandate to look at returnees and the foreign fighter angle and shifts from not just ISIS and individuals that travelled to that part of the world, but also individuals that have travelled to Ukraine and Russia and spending some time there,” Mukbil said.

“There's a transnational element to this and moving it to the federal level makes investigating and analyzing and having a clearer picture possible.”

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