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Incel Terrorism

When someone plots to blow up a building in the name of religion, we’re quick to describe that as an act of terror under Canadian law. And we’re increasingly realizing that the same label applies when someone enters a Muslim house of worship and opens fire on those inside. But the newest description of an act of terror in Canada is one that simply makes sense to most women: terror on the basis of gender.

Although we don’t want to give any more publicity to the concept, it’s important to know about the existence of men who call themselves “incels,” short for “involuntarily celibate.” They are an online community of males who reinforce each other in a belief that they are good guys, unfairly rejected by popular men and, far more important, women. Their writings insist that these “incels” are being prevented from having sex, but rather than examining their own personalities and behaviour, they rage against the women who don’t want to have anything to do with them.

And as we’ve seen in Canada over the past few years, that rage can turn murderous. After the van attack in north Toronto in 2018, the driver was clear that he was an incel who wanted to kill women. We’ve also learned that the man who shot and killed two young women in the city’s Danforth neighbourhood was a follower of incel beliefs, too.

It couldn’t be clearer, could it? Members of a group with a shared ideology target members of another group for violence and murder. According to the Canadian criminal code, terrorism is an act of violence carried out “in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause,” and which is intended to intimidate the public. Incel actions clearly fit the definition.

Finally, the powers that be seem to agree. In mid-May, the RCMP and Toronto police classified a stabbing attack by a 17-year-old male — one of his female victims died — as an act of terror. The Toronto police had contacted the RCMP when it became obvious the murderer’s motivation was a result of his extremist ideology; the charge of terrorism is the first of its kind in Canada’s history. Indeed, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service says in a recent report that when an incel murders a woman or girl, it’s the act of a terrorist.

Reassuring as it is to see this new understanding of violence against women, gender terror matters to everyone. The van attacker killed eight women and two men. The Danforth shooter injured 13 people in addition to those he killed before taking his own life. The young man with the knife left a little girl without a mother. Every part of these incidents is tragic. By acknowledging that they are rooted in an ideological hatred of women and working to prevent them by going after those roots, we begin to make all of society a little safer.