This week, the Government of Canada announced their decision to place 13 new groups on the Criminal Code list of terrorist entities. This new designation list not only included AQ affiliates and IS affiliates, but also right-wing violent extremist groups, such as Atomwaffen Division, the Base, the Proud Boys and Russian Imperial Movement.

Since there is no universal definition of terrorism, designation is a crucial means of removing the legal uncertainty that prevents platforms from removing harmful content. It is vital that counterterrorism, whether offline or online, is led by democratically accountable institutions in accordance with the rule of law. 

Designation is also an effective way to improve action from certain so-called alt-tech platforms who might occasionally otherwise shelter such content under the rubric of free speech. By updating and maintaining designation lists regularly, governments can help smaller tech companies take swift and accurate action against terrorist groups.

Canada is one of the few countries to have designated right-wing violent extremist groups as terrorist organisations, with the designation of Blood & Honour and its armed branch Combat 18 in 2019. 

The groups designated by Canada will be included in the Terrorist Content Analytics Platform (TCAP), which Public Safety Canada funds. The TCAP is a tool that collects verified terrorist content from designated Islamist and far-right terrorist groups with the aim of supporting smaller tech companies in tackling terrorist use of their platforms.

TCAP is grounded in the rule of law and therefore follows the legal designation of terrorist groups by democratic nation states and supranational institutions: the recent decision from the Government of Canada will allow TCAP to monitor a broader range of harmful content. 

Adam Hadley, Director of Tech Against Terrorism, said:

“The Government of Canada should be commended for acting swiftly and decisively. This new designation list will remove legal uncertainty that hinders platforms from taking down harmful content. 

Terrorist use of the internet is evolving at an ever faster pace, and governments must provide stronger strategic and legal guidance if we are to counter the threat. 

We have campaigned for years to promote the designation of terrorist and violent extremist groups, and we hope that the Government of Canada’s actions will encourage others to update their lists also.”