Canada needs to take a page from Great Britain and start tackling the rise of eco-extremism

Joseph QuesnelIn March, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy released a major study examining a rising problem of eco-extremism in Canada over the last decade. The height of this extremism was a terror attack against a Coastal GasLink pipeline project worksite in February 2022.

During this attack, about 20 assailants wearing masks and wielding axes and flares descended on the worksite, intimidating security and pipeline workers and causing millions of dollars in damage.

The RCMP traced the terror attacks to outside anarchists radicalized by extreme “decolonization” rhetoric and alarmist climate change beliefs that led to the attacks on fossil fuel infrastructure.

Canada has already witnessed extremist organizations like Extinction Rebellion and others ratchet up increasingly extreme tactics over the last few years. In 2023, a protester defaced artwork at the National Gallery, justifying it as civil disobedience to gain media attention.

canada eco-extremism

Two climate activists from the group Just Stop Oil splashed tomato Soup on Vincent Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” (1888) at London’s National Gallery (courtesy Just Stop Oil via Twitter)

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Protesters aligned with the far-left have long embraced what they call a ‘diversity of tactics,’ including vandalism, intimidation, and other forms of property destruction.

At the core of this issue is the transformation of so-called civil disobedience into extreme acts that intimidate for political ends, potentially endangering lives. Such actions are deemed terrorism under Canada’s Criminal Code. No matter how justified you feel about your cause, you are not justified in intimidating the public and endangering someone’s safety.

In Great Britain and other Western European nations, extremist groups have escalated from civil disobedience to actions bordering on terrorism. Just Stop Oil, formed in 2022 to protest UK fossil fuel infrastructure, has been wreaking havoc in Great Britain by disrupting traffic with road blockades.

There’s no need to explain that this tactic poses significant dangers, including disrupting traffic, obstructing emergency vehicles, escalating tensions and provoking physical confrontations with drivers, many of whom have urgent needs, including medical emergencies.

In October 2022, two British women died from injuries sustained in traffic accidents that were directly related to a Just Stop Oil stunt that dangerously rerouted traffic in busy London.

In response, the British government began to press criminal charges against activists engaged in some of the more dangerous activities. Most importantly, authorities started taking eco-extremists seriously. Groups like Extinction Rebellion were categorized as extremist organizations. Moreover, authorities began treating eco-extremist groups similarly to Islamist groups so that the public could report to prevent further radicalization.

In my research for the Frontier Centre on eco-extremism, I found that security agencies like the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and Public Safety Canada were disproportionately focused on right-wing extremism. Instead of acknowledging that climate change zealotry was fueling radicalization within Canada, they perceived climate change “denialism” as more of a threat.

The mainstream media exacerbates the issue by magnifying threats from the right while minimizing or disregarding those from the far left. Canadians well-remember the demonization of the convoy protests in 2022 and the media’s efforts to link them to extremist groups and foreign funding, all of which were debunked. The media also turned a blind eye to the vandalism and arson targeting nearly 100 churches following an unproven allegation regarding residential schools.

Universities are also guilty. Universities actively promote and support “decolonization” movements that engage in pipeline vandalism and contribute to the normalization of attacks on the energy sector.

Canada must follow Great Britain’s lead by listing these groups as extremists, start pressing charges against them and start encouraging deradicalization. If not, extremist groups will become emboldened and much more dangerous.

Joseph Quesnel is a senior research fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

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