Combatting Hatred and Violent Extremism through Social Pedagogy

By Ryan Scrivens, PhD

Horizon Postdoctoral Fellow, Concordia University

Surprising to some is that Canada, a multicultural nation of sorts, is not – and has never been – immune from hatred and bigotry. In fact, those who maintain radical and intolerant beliefs or engage in radical action continue to reside amongst us, oftentimes in plain sight. In 2017, Canadian universities, for example, saw a surge in flyering campaigns across campuses that promoted Islamophobia and radical right-wing ideals. That same year, a man with anti-Muslim views walked into a mosque in Quebec City and murdered six worshipers and injured 19 others. Another man with an Islamic State flag in the front seat of his vehicle struck four pedestrians on a busy street in Edmonton and later stabbed a police officer during his apprehension. In what appears to be an increase in hate-inspired activity in Canada, no time is better than now to educate the broader public about the complexities associated with hatred and radicalization leading to violent extremism. This is a task that we, at Project SOMEONE, are currently undertaking – through the power of a social pedagogy, in our communities and at a national level.

An important starting place for countering violent extremism and hatred is in the public sphere, by building relationships with key stakeholders, as well as promoting social pedagogy in general and public intellectualism, social activism, and critical thinking in particular. By no means, however, is this an easy undertaking – but it is feasible. To illustrate, in 2013 I co-authored a three-year study, funded by Public Safety Canada (under their Kanishka Program), on the state of right-wing extremism in Canada. The purpose of the study, amongst others, was to explore the internal and external factors that were most likely to give rise to and minimize right-wing extremist groups and associated violence, as well as offer recommendations on how we can counter right-wing extremism in Canada. Here we conducted extensive fieldwork across the country, interviewing a number of stakeholders, which included law enforcement officials, community groups, and adherents of the right-wing extremist movement. We also gathered open source intelligence (i.e., media reports, court cases, and website and social media) to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the movement in Canada.

Notably, right-wing extremism is an area of inquiry that was overlooked, from an academic and social pedagogy perspective, for over 15 years in Canada. The three-year study was well-received by scholars, policy-makers, and practitioners, and subsequent publications gained significant media attention, with well over 100 news stories (i.e., television, print, and radio) reporting on the study. While our findings did manage to reach the general public, perhaps more importantly was that we were able to shape some of the public discourse as well as conversations amongst community groups and law enforcement communities about the complexities of hatred in Canada. This was done by building relationships with journalists and reporters as well as through various speaking engagements with community groups and presentations at law enforcement workshops.

It must be noted, however, that the results of the study were a shock to many Canadians. Not only did we find that the foundations of hatred are complex and multi-faceted, grounded in both individual and social conditions, we uncovered that right-wing extremism was alive and well in Canada. From 1980 to 2015, for example, we identified over 100 active groups and over 100 reported incidents of right-wing extremist violence in the country. We also uncovered that the threat from the radical right was overlooked by the mainstream media and the general public. In turn, then, we proposed a multi-sectorial approach to educate the broader public about hatred and ensure that extremists have a minimal impact on communities. This included the integration and utilization of an array of experts, such as community organizations, victim service providers, police officers, policy-makers, and the media.

Spring-boarding from this framework, the Director and Principal Investigator of Project SOMEONE, Vivek Venkatesh, and I are currently working on a project – funded by Public Safety Canada – in which we are developing ways to build resiliency against hatred and radicalization leading to violent extremism in Canada, both through a multi-sectoral and social pedagogical approach. We will be including the voices of key stakeholders in the discussions, and we will be urging Canadians to think critically about how we respond to hatred in our communities. We also hope that our messages circulate within and across various community groups and security intelligence circles, as well as reach and maintain itself in the public sphere. Details about this project will be revealed in the coming months. Please stay tuned.