- Posted by Angela Chaisson
- On June 12, 2020
The Dangers of Labelling Incels as Terrorists
On February 24, 2020, Ashley Noell Arzaga, a sex worker in a Toronto massage parlour, was violently murdered with a machete. Another woman and a man were also injured in the attack. A 17-year-old male allegedly motivated by ‘incel’ ideology has been charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder as terrorist activities. This is the first time in Canada, and indeed the world, that misogynist violence has been legally constructed as terrorism.
‘Incel’ means involuntary celibate and is a moniker for a subset of the online anti-feminist manosphere subculture. These men, who are not having the sex they desire, create community online in order to express their sexual frustration and violent fantasies. The Southern Poverty Law Center has described incels as one faction of a broader “male supremacist movement” that espouses “a hateful ideology advocating for the subjugation of women.”
The terrorism add-on has been lauded by progressive feminists. They see it as a way to signal the seriousness of ideologically motivated violence against women. But is construing misogynistic violence as terrorism actually a progressive move some feminists claim? Will it actually decrease gender-based violence? Will it make a difference in the lives of women and girls?
On the surface, there is a compelling argument. Many feminists argue that women deserve the full protection of each legal mechanism available to them, including having terrorism related charges in the Criminal Code for acts of violence against women.
Upon deeper consideration, however, we must firmly answer “no.”
The more groups get labelled as terrorism, the more the State gains control of our lives. The terrorism label allows the State to intensify investigative techniques such as surveillance, policing speech, privacy invasions and removing internet content. It permits a whole host of invasive State activity.
Calling Ms. Arzaga’s murder an act of terrorism shifts our trust onto the State to surveil women into safety. But we need look no further than current reality and our own history to disprove the Canadian State as a champion of women. The Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls illustrated in great detail the State creation of the material conditions that made these women and girls particularly vulnerable to violence. The MMIWG report made hundreds of recommendations aimed at decreasing gender-based violence and murder. Canada has failed to implement a single recommendation. Not a single one. And so, violence against women continues at staggering rates.
Violence against women primarily occurs in the home. Male intimate partners remain an enormous threat to women, and they often perpetrate violence with impunity. Women may stay in these relationships not because they are weak, but because they are dependent on their partners for financial stability, immigration status, childcare, or social status within a religious community. Often, they simply have nowhere else to go – domestic violence shelters are forced to operate with smaller and smaller budgets as federal and provincial governments continue to cut funding.
But when violence against women occurs in public spaces, public outrage is swift, as seen with École Polytechnique, the 2018 van attack in Toronto, and now Ms. Arzaga’s murder. The public demands that the perpetrators face the most severe criminal consequences possible. Yet we are content, on a daily basis, to turn a blind eye to the vast majority of violence against women which occurs in the home.
Canadians shouldn’t be so quick to believe that charging someone with terrorism related offences because of their ideological motivations, even one as deplorable as incel ideology, is a win for women. It does nothing to decrease the violence that pervades our society. To be free of violence, women need changes in the material conditions that made them so vulnerable to violence in the first place. We need the State to do its job and to close the wage gap, teach sexual consent in schools from a young age, fund domestic violence shelters, call out toxic masculinity, and give women the resources they need to leave intimate partner violence when they are ready.
Women deserve nothing less.
 In Canada, terrorism is not a stand-alone offence; it can only be charged in conjunction with a stand-alone Criminal Code offence – in this case murder and attempted murder.
 Bridget Read, “The World’s First ‘Incel Terrorism’ Charge”, (21 May 2020), online: The Cut – Crime, <https://www.thecut.com/2020/05/canadian-teenager-incel-terror-attack.html>.
 Shanifa Nasser, “Terror charges in alleged ‘incel’-inspired stabbing could force reckoning of Canada’s terrorism laws: experts” (20 May 2020, last modified 21 May 2020), online: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation – News – Toronto, <https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/incel-canada-terrorism-1.5577015>.
 Southern Poverty Law Center, “Male Supremacy”, online: Southern Poverty Law Center <https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/ideology/male-supremacy>.
 Jessica Davis, “Incel-related violence is terrorism – and the world should start treating it that way”, (20 May 2020), online: The Globe and Mail – Opinion, <https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-incel-related-violence-is-terrorism-and-the-world-should-start/>.
 Ann Cavoukian and Khaled El Emam, “Introducing Privacy-Protective Surveillance. Achieving Privacy and Effective Counter-Terrorism” (2013) at 4, online (pdf): Information and Privacy Commissioner, Ontario Canada, < https://www.ipc.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/Resources/pps.pdf>.
 Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Volumes 1a and 1b, (Ottawa: National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, 2019).
(This article was first published at The Lawyer’s Daily and can be viewed at https://www.thelawyersdaily.ca/articles/19542/dangers-of-labelling-incels-as-terrorists-angela-chaisson-and-nicole-dinn. Reproduced with permission.)