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U.S. Capitol hearings: Why should Canadians care? Extremism, security experts weigh in

Global News logo Global News 2022-07-07 Noor Ibrahim
Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., listen as Cassidy Hutchinson, former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, testifies as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) © JSA Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., listen as Cassidy Hutchinson, former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, testifies as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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Bombshell after bombshell of shocking revelations continue to be unearthed during hearings on the United States Capitol insurrection, which are set to continue into July.

From evidence that former president Donald Trump pressured lawmakers to overturn election results to testimony that he knew of the violence descending on Capitol, the rabbit hole of American politics may have Canadians thinking their country is far removed from what went down on Jan. 6.

Researchers beg to differ.

"We saw this in the United States, and now we're seeing it in Canada -- that people are losing faith in institutions, in our federal government, in our election system," said Kayla Preston, a PhD student investigating extremism at the University of Toronto.

"That's usually because misinformation is being spread online."

Read more:

Jan. 6 hearings: Bombshell testimony on Trump’s anger, pardons and ketchup stains

That misinformation -- and in many instances disinformation -- was key in the Capitol attack, said Preston, as rioters stormed the capitol echoing Trump's baseless claim that the 2020 federal election result was stolen.

As Canadians followed the widely-shared pictures and videos from that day, some spotted their own country's maple leaf being paraded during the riot.

According to 680news in 2021, the RCMP were not aware of any Canadians involved in the Capitol breach.

Aside from the Proud Boys' possible connection to the event (a terrorist group founded by Canadian Gavin McInnes,) researchers say there's more evidence to suggest Canada's ties to anti-democratic movements like the insurrection run deep. The public is not immune to the same misinformation that was widely at play during the riot, they say.

"These kind of uprisings are possible in Canada," Preston said.

Even more, political studies teaching fellow Tim Abray says the events of Jan. 6 and the findings of the hearings are "absolutely affecting Canadian democracy."

If it is seen that pro-Trump politicians can get away with "fibbing" to the public about the election result, those working on the ground in Canada may take note.

'Political strategists are routinely hired from the United States to assist Canadian political parties," the Queen's University doctoral candidate said.

"If a strategy looks to be successful in one place, it will be applied in other places."

The United States can't solely be blamed for anti-democratic, hateful movements in Canada. Many, said Preston, were born and raised here, staying "alive and well"  for quite some time.

Nevertheless, the U.S.'s influence on our nation is undeniable and hard to ignore, said University of Victoria's Will Greaves.

"There are groups in Canada -- typically speaking right-wing, populist groups --  who look at the kind of activities that similar groups in the United States have engaged in, and they see a role model for themselves in that," the assistant professor of international relations told Global over Zoom.

"They kind of consciously understand a series of tactics being employed in the United States, which to one degree or another, they are interested in importing into the Canadian context."

That means Canada's national security is at risk by those groups, he said. But it also means that how the US decides to hold those involved in the insurrection accountable will largely reflect on the future confidence that Canada will have in its long-term ally.

"As the smaller, weaker partner in the North American relationship, Canada requires a robust, democratic United States ... [The hearings] will give us an indicator of the health of American democracy after a very difficult number of years," Greaves said.

At the start of 2022, some of the organizers of the trucker convoy that occupied Ottawa and border towns like Windsor said they wanted to see parliament dissolved.

While the occupation did not have the scale of violence seen during the Capitol invasion, Preston said, "we can't just ignore that did happen."

Read more:

Downplaying risks from Ottawa trucker convoy after the fact is ‘revisionist’: minister

Some of the organizers had a history of white nationalism and racism.

But Greaves says strong connections can also be drawn between the convoy and the capitol rioters because of the "unconstitutional, unlawful, not appropriate" tactics both used. That includes blocking border crossings between Canada and the U.S. in regard to the trucker convoy.

In March, University of Ottawa assembled a task force of security and intelligence experts, including four individuals who previously served as national security advisors to the prime minister.

Two months later, the task force penned a report exposing Canada as "ill-prepared for the world’s changing security environment."

The 39-page document did not mention the Capitol insurrection.

It did, however, reference the 2022 trucker protests in Canada. The movement was an example of "democracy under siege," the report said, calling it an emerging threat to Canada's national security as polarization and disinformation fuel uprisings.

Following the convoy, it quickly became apparent that there were ties between far-right extremists in Canada and the United States, cited the report.

It went on to say, "a polarized United States has become a less predictable partner in recent years," and recommended addressing Canadians' mistrust in government as one of four avenues that would help fill the "glaring gaps" in Canada's national security strategy.

At Western University in London, Ont., an international security and foreign and defence policy expert is echoing the report's recommendations for the nation to stay on guard.

Associate professor and NATO research fellow Erika Simpson still doesn't think an uprising on the scale of the Capitol riot is going to happen in Canada anytime soon, though, even from those with convoy ties.

"There were a lot of lessons learned in the winter from the truckers' convoy. I think that the police service in Ottawa and the smaller border patrols in Emerson and in Windsor have realized a lot," she said.

"I am very convinced that people who believe in a rules-based world order will conquer this extremism in the United States. I think the rule of law will come to the forefront. "

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But Simpson says Canada needs to start "multitasking" quick, meaning keep an eye on brewing extremist movements while also addressing other pressing security threats, such as Russia's nuclear intimidation.

Read more:

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It all comes down to Canada reviewing its national security policy, said Simpson, which has not been updated since 2004, according to the uOttawa task force.

That commission is long overdue, according to Greaves, as misinformation is just one of many newer hurdles the country grapples with.

"We need to know if the money that we're spending money on aligns with the goals that we've set for ourselves ... the discussion of what we should actually be prioritizing going forward, is the kind of thing that a review would reveal."

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