Far-right march proceeds in Quebec after counter-protesters hurl chairs, bottles
Hundreds of members of a far-right group marched in Quebec City on Sunday to protest illegal immigration, but were delayed by several hours by far-left protesters who tried to shut them down by force.
The far-right demonstration was organized by La Meute, which translates from French to “the pack.” The group is opposed to Islam and many view it as racist.
La Meute had a permit to protest and planned to march at 2 p.m., but was confronted by hundreds of left-wing protesters, dozens of them with faces covered, some calling themselves “anti-fascists.”
After police attempted to allow the far-right march to go ahead, some of the counter-protesters launched fireworks, lit fires and hurled bottles and chairs. They also attacked members of the media.
Police quickly declared the left-wing demonstration illegal, citing “violence and vandalism,” but many protesters remained. The far-right group waited inside the parking garage of a government building until the standoff ended.
La Meute proceeded to march around 6 p.m., carrying signs that said things like: “It’s not racist or xenophobic to want to preserve quality of life and the safety of the country.” Others held signs that referenced “free speech.”
Police later issued a statement saying that one person had been arrested and three police officers were affected by a “chemical irritant” thrown by protesters. They said that they have images and video showing who participated in the illegal demonstration.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard addressed the situation on Twitter, stating that his government condemns violence and intimidation. “We live in a democracy where respect must be the norm and not the exception,” he wrote in French.
La Meute claims that it does not discriminate based on race but is opposed to illegal border crossings. The RCMP intercepted 3,800 asylum seekers crossing the border between the U.S. and Quebec between Aug. 1 and 15, after intercepting nearly 3,000 in July.
Le Meute says it “suspended” one of its members for participating in the violent Charlottesville, Va., protests last Saturday, which attracted white supremacists and neo-Nazis. One Charlottesville counter-protester, Heather Heyer, died after a car rammed into the crowd. The man charged in connection with Heyer’s death has been described as an admirer of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.
Jocelyne Leger, who attended La Meute’s rally on Sunday, said that the group is “not racist,” but rather “just against Islam.”
“Now we eat halal,” Leger said. “Nobody is happy about that.” She said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard are “not protecting us.”
Jaggi Singh, a left-wing activist who attended the counter-protest from Montreal, said that La Meute’s message “needs to be confronted.”
Singh warned against the dangers of creating a “a climate of fear” against Muslims and migrants, noting that a far-right sympathizer killed six people in an attack on a Quebec City mosque in January.
Maxime Fiset, a researcher from Montreal’s Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence, said he believes the counter-protesters may have hurt their cause.
“Everybody is going to remember that La Meute could not demonstrate and that some guys threw bottles and fireworks and set a dumpster on fire,” he said.
“La Meute has the upper hand here,” he later told CTV News Channel. “They can say that they were censored, they can say they were the target of violent groups. It’s sad to say that, but they would be right today.”
Fiset said that although La Meute has recently “toned down” their anti-immigration message, there are members of the group who “openly express racist views and even sometimes call for genocide.”
He said that Quebec’s recent debate on the Parti Quebecois’ 2013 Charter of Values -- which proposed banning public servants from wearing religious symbols -- may have contributed to polarization and extremism in Quebec.
Earlier on Sunday in Montreal, Trudeau addressed La Meute’s planned rally. He said that a small “angry, frustrated group of racists don't get to define who we are as a country, don't get to tell others who we are and don't get to change the nature of the open, accepting values that make us who we are.”
"I am proud to be Canadian, I am proud to be a Quebecer and I am proud to stand with millions of Canadians who reject the hateful, harmful, heinous ideologies that we've seen in dark corners of both the Internet and our communities from time to time,’ Trudeau added.
The Quebec City rally came one day after thousands of demonstrators gathered in front of Vancouver’s city hall for an anti-racism protest. That rally was in response to a planned anti-immigrant protest, but the anti-racist protesters far outnumbered the anti-immigrant group.
With a report from CTV Montreal’s Rob Lurie and files from Daksha Rangan