This blog article is the first known publication in Canada related to Firearms, Gangs and Extremists that specifically comments on the intersections of gangs, extremism, firearms law and Internet in Canada.
This article is written with knowledge (of the author) that national security teams across Canada have failed to address the alarming fact that para military extremist training camps have emerged all over western Canada in the last two years. These training camps use both firearms and improvised explosives.
Also, gang units and national security teams are aware of the connections between gangs and extremist groups throughout Canada but choose to not address the interplay between gangs and extremists.
This article is written with the intention to contribute to a momentum of ideas for addressing a real problem: Firearms, Gangs, Extremists and the Internet.
In Canada there are stringent licensing requirements for issuing firearms licenses and buying firearms. Canadian governments (federal, provincial and municipal) started a national discussion on banning all handguns, along with other changes to existing firearms laws.
In recent years, extremism and terrorism has become a concerning reality in Canada. There have been numerous attacks, and depending upon who you talk to there have been more attacks than we are able to count and track. Some extremist and terrorist attacks in Canada have included firearms, however, I have yet to see any data on whether these firearms were legally owned or not.
Gangs have also wreaked havoc with gun violence in communities across Canada for decades. There is little data, to my knowledge, that evidences legal firearms are used in these attacks, rather, it appears that the majority of gang gun violence is perpetrated with illegal firearms. That being said, there seems to be a growing trend that somehow active gang members and extremists are able to acquire gun licenses; none of the proposed changes to firearms law address this matter.
Recent Media Coverage
Vice media has recently covered a story of Vernon resident Kaz Nowlin who has been a member of several right wing extremist organizations, including Soldiers of Odin (“SOO”) and III% (“3%”). Kaz and others openly advertise online that they are legal firearms owners and demand that their membership engages in training to protect Canada from, primarily, Muslim terrorists. Kaz and his crew have been engaging in combat training, while attempting to deceive media into believing they only use ‘air soft’ guns. SOO and 3% are not the only ones engaged in para military training in western Canada; and there are groups that are even more concerning (this will be saved for another day).
The SOO have garnered fame within media as being debated as a community interest group. The first Canadian SOO President was an employee of the Manitoba Provincial-Government who was publicly known to be connected to the Hells Angels. SOO is a right wing extremist group that has gained permissions to fly gang colors by the Hells Angels. Other members of SOO are known to have close affiliations with Hells Angels as well.
Journalists have contributed to recruitment campaigns of the SOO and similar groups. Since then, SOO has experienced a high turnover in members. Many SOO members have defected and became 3% members in western Canada. The 3% is an American right wing militia group that now intends to stand as a vanguard against Islam; both SOO and 3% are groups rooted within a movement that targets and promotes hate against an ethnic and religious minority in Canada.
Extremist groups and gangs now recruit and advertise online. The Internet is the primary tool to access mouldable minds, and is often an effective recruitment tool for dangerous people. Social media platformsare riddled with pictures of gangs and extremists in Canada who brandish their illegal firearms (aka weapons) without fear of reprisal.
While Vice has highlighted an issue with para military training, the article is only meant as a spring board for further enquiry. There are many things that the article does not address, nor expose. It merely ricochets off the target.
There is much to say about firearms law, and this article is not intended to dive into this murky and often nonsensical area of law and regulation.
It is important to highlight that Canadian Governments are intending and hoping to make Canadians safer by decreasing the amount of legal firearms, which in effect does not achieve the governments stated goals. Rather than approach the issue by speaking to real experts in the areas of gangs, extremism and firearms law to determine how to best prevent further gun violence and attacks, the governments are targeting legal firearms owners. This is wholly unfair and seems to be motivated by the political aspiration of optics, to make it appear that the government of the day is sufficiently upholding public safety.
There are more effective methods to approach gang gun violence, extremism and terrorist attacks than by taking measures against law abiding firearms owners.
Across Canada, both federal and provincial governments have sanctioned the legitimization of gangs and extremists by allowing them to take forms byway of incorporated companies and societies. Several of these legitimized criminal and extremist groups are known to be engaged with gun violence or para military training, yet authorities do not act on this. Some examples of government sanctioned gangs include groups mentioned herein: Hells Angels and Soldiers Of Odin.
Governments should be addressing the root of gun violence and extremist/terrorist attacks by responding more diligently to the behaviors of those responsible for much of the gun violence: gangs, extremists and terrorists. Legal firearms owners are not the root of the gun violence.
There are accessible, tangible and practical methods to curbing gun violence in Canada. This includes but is not limited to the following:
- Regulation and Rules may be established to prevent and revoke registration of federal and provincial incorporated companies and societies that are gang and extremist affiliated. Governments need to cease the sanctioning and legitimizing criminal and extremist organizations.
- Deny or revoke licenses to anyone who engages in any para military training with extremist groups (whether right wing, left wing or religious) for activities contrary to Canadian social policy including human and civil rights.
- Create Firearms Act Regulation that prohibit intimidation, threats or appearance of taking arms, or engaging gun violence, against any other citizen, group or nation; apply this to both community and cyber spaces.
- Create an effective reporting system for the Chief Firearms Office (“CFO”) and RCMP online that allows users to provide links and photo uploads of identifiable extremists and gangs who are brandishing weapons online; if not an online system, one that is more effective than the mere telephone system operated by CFO, as it is too logistically complicated to report online activity via telephone.
- Empower communities to effectively and legally respond to gangs and extremists. Create Canadian Internet Regulations that will deter gangs and extremists from using cyber spaces as recruitment and promotion because these groups pose dangers to our communities. Provide citizens, communities and incorporated non-government organizations with legal mechanisms to pursue injunctions and torts where gangs and extremists are brandishing firearms and other threatening behavior online.
- Develop checks and balance system to report police and authorities who refuse to investigate or take action when credible reports of gang or extremist activity are not acted upon. This can include tort liability, or any other mechanisms available to legislators.
If the root of the gun violence problem in Canada are criminals, gangs, extremists or terrorists, we should not be taking punitive measures against legal firearms owners, we ought to be focussing on those who are the problem.
I am one of a few people in Canada who have collected a small database of known extremists and gang members who do advertise para military training and brandish weapons online. To date, interest of authorities related to firearms brandished online by gangs and extremists is nil. This needs to change.
If the governments are serious about tackling gun violence they ought to address the roots of the problem.
Daniel Gallant is a registered social worker based in British Columbia, who is currently a law student at Thompson Rivers University. Daniel had spent ten years in the far right movement in Canada for ten years, until he left fifteen years ago.
The Soldiers of Odin are not an Idle Threat to Canada
In Canada, we are starting to see the spread of a new right wing extremist threat: the Soldiers of Odin (SOO).
The SOO were founded by white supremacists in Europe, and the group has reportedly murdered members of the global Muslim community. The group’s general purpose is to object to immigration of Muslims and to express civil disobedience towards government, law enforcement and communities by imposing community patrol watches.
In Canada, the SOO brand has been sold to Canadians as being a charitable organization that intends to uphold Canadian laws. The obvious logical fallacies become apparent when observed mindfully in the context of their own declared purpose, structure and function. Rhetoric and propaganda are merely stated to garner public support.
The name of the group itself is revealing. Norse neo-paganism in itself is not problematic. However, odinism is a by-product of Nazi Germany that has flared up in North America with the rise of violent far right extremist groups. Odin is the god of war, a war that is fought for blood, soil and honour. And members are soldiers of this doctrinal ideology.
The SOO’s online discourse includes the threat of condemnation of the Canadian government, who are accused of failing to protect Canadians from the ‘Muslim hordes’ who are bringing ‘jihadi-terrorism’ into our communities; thus, the SOO currently imposes foot patrols and a gang like presence in at least 12 cities across the country, with a reported membership that reaches alarming numbers.
The media and law enforcement have questioned the group’s leadership, and the National President is reported to be affiliated with convicted organized crime members, who are said to have shown support for the Soldiers of Odin.
Additionally, the SOO declares they do not have any white supremacists in their affiliations, networks and ranks, which is categorically false. The groups memberships include active white supremacists and other far right extremists. Moreover, the SOO reproduces right wing extremist rhetoric pertaining to their opposition of anyone who declares, or is deemed by the SOO to be, anti-fascist or seen as a potential terrorist threat (of course with the exception of white supremacists who are in their ranks).
I, and others, have collected enough information to establish that the Soldiers of Odin are a threat to the fabric of Canadian society and social order. They are birthed, both conceptually and literally, from the white supremacist movement.
In many countries around the world, the nature of the SOO seems to be better understood. Only in Canada has the media and law enforcement not responded directly to the nature of this organization. This is perhaps due to the fact that most people do not understand who the Soldiers of Odin are, what they do, where they are located, and why they have garnered such a rapid foothold in Canada over the course of a few months.
We need to be examine more closely why some Canadian citizens are prone to openly supporting and condoning groups like the Soldiers of Odin.
Canada has long been complacent to the threat of far right extremism, and has been afraid to look at its own white supremacist past. As such, it is easier to not fully notice the rise of these movements in our society, as they seek to terrorize marginalized communities. While we spend a lot of time and money examining the jihadist threat to Canada, we must not lose sight of the far-right threat, and the real possibility of losing some of our youth to this destructive path.