Should Canadians worry about #Wexit from an extremism perspective?

The fact is that groups that hold extremist views and—potentially—violent extremist ones such as the Soldiers of Odin, the Proud Boys, and the IIIpercenters also tend to gravitate towards causes such as those espoused by Wexit.

This piece appeared in The Hill Times on November 11, 2019.


I have always been fascinated by hashtags (#) on social media. In particular, I wonder who creates them, why certain ones gain popularity and what effect they have on our consumption of news and information. Do they, for example, dictate what people read and why? Do readers gravitate to news because of hashtags? Are dinosaurs like me who do not use them destined for extinction?

In the aftermath of the recent federal election we have witnessed the birth of #Wexit on line and a growing offline movement. Modeled clearly on Brexit, this meme refers to increasing Western province alienation and marginalisation with Ottawa and a desire to make a break for it.

Modeled clearly on Brexit, this meme refers to increasing Western province alienation and marginalisation with Ottawa and a desire to make a break for it.

The West is obviously frustrated, albeit not for the first time in recent Canadian history, that its views on energy are not being taken seriously and stem from a lack of representation in Parliament (the Liberals won a grand total of one seat in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta).

That many in the prairie provinces are angry is a given and the calls for a change in how our nation is governed are growing. Whether or not this all ends in separation is besides the point: these concerns really need to be addressed for the health of our Confederation.

That many in the prairie provinces are angry is a given and the calls for a change in how our nation is governed are growing.

There is a extreme element to Wexit

More interestingly for me is the issue of whether there is a extreme element to Wexit. According to a recent article in Vice it seems as if there is. Two of the main organisers behind the movement have a “prolific history” of pushing far-right and anti-Muslim conspiracy theories and accuse the Trudeau government of “normalising pedophilia,” tolerating ISIS terrorists “penetrating” the country – apparently disguised as refugees – and pursuing an immigration policy aimed to “depopulate the white, Anglo-Saxon race.”

Somewhat worryingly one of these two is a former RCMP officer which leads to a fair question whether more members of the force hold similar views. I do not want to suggest that these ideas are widespread within any level of law enforcement across Canada but there are legitimate reasons to monitor the development of Wexit and Western alienation.

Left: votewexit.com founder Peter Downing; Right: Self-styled journalist Patrick King (Photo: FaceBook)

Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS)

Now, before I get hate mail or accusations of trampling the Charter, let me explain. We have organisations such as CSIS which has a mandate to investigate the possibility of political or ideologically motivated violence (under section 2 c) of the CSIS Act) and it can do so based on ‘reasonable grounds to suspect’. I am NOT saying that the feelings of anger and frustration among Western Canadians will inevitably head in that direction but we would be naive to think that it cannot. Anyone remember the violent October Crisis in 1970 which sprang from the Quebec separation movement?

In this light, would it not make sense for CSIS to at least consider the possibility that a handful of those within the Wexit world may lean towards violence?

One of the supporting factors that could merit CSIS interest in Wexit is the presence, if true, of far right elements. CSIS and others have been criticised for focusing too much on Islamist terrorism over the last twenty years and ignoring far right violent extremism. I have it on good authority that this is changing and that is indeed a good move as our security intelligence service needs to be on top of all ideologically-motivated violence.

In this light, would it not make sense for CSIS to at least consider the possibility that a handful of those within the Wexit world may lean towards violence? This is a reasonable assumption and must be considered should groups that skirt the lawful dissent/violence divide migrate to separatist extremist views.

Wexit Alberta leader Peter Downing is confident Western Canada will secede. (Gabriel Brown/CBC) – note the ‘Make Alberta Great Again’ ballcap

Soldiers of Odin, Proud Boys and the IIIpercenters

The fact is that groups that hold extremist views and – potentially – violent extremist ones such as the Soldiers of Odin, the Proud Boys and the IIIpercenters also tend to gravitate towards causes such as those espoused by Wexit. It is no coincidence that separatist drives often contain anti-immigrant feelings (if you are a newcomer you are not a member of what we stand for and what we are seeking – the Quebecois notion of ‘pure laine’ fits here as well) and that the aforementioned groups usually demonstrate anti-immigrant leanings. To this we can certainly add anti-Islamic ones.

In the end the likelihood of serious violence is perhaps not very high and it would be unhelpful to make a mountain out of a molehill. Still, I would advise keeping an eye on this to make sure it does not barrel down a road that could pose a threat. If we ignore it completely and something tragic does happen I fear our protective agencies will face a number of scathing questions.

Phil Gurski is a former strategic analyst at CSIS. His latest book, When Religion Kills, comes out in November.