How right-wing extremists, libertarians and evangelicals built Quebec’s movement against COVID-19 restrictions

Of note:

The main event at a demonstration protesting COVID-19 restrictions last weekend north of Montreal was a speech by Steeve L’Artiss Charland, one-time leader of a far-right group that has since faded from view.

In a parking lot in Mont-Tremblant, Que., Charland told a crowd of around 75 about his miraculous recovery from a childhood illness that had stumped doctors. He then told them they were part of a cosmic struggle of good against evil.

“It’s us against them,” Charland said to applause. “We’re in a spiritual war. We’re in a war of darkness against light.”

The opposition to public health measures in Quebec has given many figures in the province’s foundering far-right movement a chance to re-invent themselves, and to find new audiences.

Charland had been one of the leaders of the Islamophobic group La Meute before leaving last year amid an internal power struggle.

The infighting, according to researchers who monitor the group, contributed to La Meute’s decline in popularity.

Charland, meanwhile, has become an active spokesperson for the movement against COVID-19 restrictions. He’s been criss-crossing the province to take part in demonstrations.

Several other prominent organizers in what’s colloquially known as the anti-mask movement also have close ties to Quebec’s far right.

The group behind a large demonstration in Montreal earlier this month, for instance, is headed by Stéphane Blais, a fringe politician who has courted far-right supporters for years.

The march began outside Quebec Premier François Legault’s office near the McGill University campus, and wound through the streets. 1:00

His political party, Citoyens au Pouvoir, received less than one per cent of the vote in the last provincial election.

But the non-profit organization he founded in the spring to challenge public health rules claims to have raised $400,000. In Montreal, he spoke to a crowd of several thousand people.

“The far-right movement had kind of died down last year before some of them recycled the anti-mask issue,” said Roxane Martel-Perron, a specialist in right-wing extremist groups at the Center for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence in Montreal.

The movement in Quebec has drawn a wide range of other figures into its orbit as well, including evangelical pastors, libertarian radio hosts and conspiracy theorists.

Their interests sometimes intersect only tangentially, but for the moment these unusual alliances have managed to organize recurring demonstrations across the province, with more slated this weekend. Together, they are seeking to undermine the government’s efforts to fight the spread of COVID-19.

Blurred lines

Along with members of the far right, the organizational core of the movement in Quebec is composed of conspiracy theorists, though the distinction between the two is not always clear.

The career arc of Quebec’s best-known conspiracy theorist, Alexis Cossette-Trudel, illustrates the fuzziness.

Before starting his own YouTube channel, Radio-Québec, Cossette-Trudel was a frequent contributor to several far-right media outlets in the province.

With Radio-Québec, he was among the first to translate into French material from QAnon, a conspiracy movement that began in the U.S. and believes the world is run by a cabal of satanic pedophiles. QAnon theories are often overtly racist or anti-Semitic.

Since the pandemic began, Cossette-Trudel has focused almost exclusively on criticizing the public health rules put in place by Quebec and Ottawa. Subscriptions to his YouTube channel have increased nearly fourfold.

His criticisms are often variations of QAnon theories, such as his recent baseless claim that Premier François Legault is exaggerating the threat of COVID-19 as part of an international plot to prevent U.S. President Donald Trump from being re-elected.

Cossette-Trudel uses his social media reach — his personal Facebook page has 36,000 followers — to promote demonstrations where people rally against COVID-19 restrictions. His speeches at these events are often shared widely by participants.Last week, Cossette-Trudel was a guest on the top-rated lunch-hour radio show in the Quebec City area.

The radio station, CHOI 98.1 FM (Radio X), is known for airing populist conservative opinions, often with a libertarian bent.

Its hosts and on-air personalities have repeatedly criticized Quebec’s public health restrictions, saying they are not justified by current infection rates (experts say the province is already being hit by a second wave.

One Radio X columnist, Éric Duhaime, even organized his own demonstration in August. It attracted more than 1,000 people in Quebec City.

“To force me to wear a mask, to threaten me with $600 tickets — I’m sorry, we’re not in communist China here. We live in a democracy,” he said in a video ahead of his rally.

Though these on-air figures try to distance themselves from conspiracy theorists, the distinction, again, is not always clear.When Cossette-Trudel appeared on the lunch-hour radio show, host Jeff Fillion said he was interviewing a “star” whose work was “very detailed and well researched.”

Evangelicals step into the public

Next month, Cossette-Trudel and Charland are scheduled to speak at a protest in Montreal that is billed as a “demonstration-gospel concert.”

A poster for the event features the names of several evangelical preachers who have become active supporters of the movement.

An evangelical media outlet, ThéoVox, has even taken to broadcasting live from some demonstrations, and produces polished video interviews with organizers and prominent speakers.

André Gagné, a Concordia University professor who studies the Christian right, said it is unusual for evangelical groups in Quebec to engage in politics, but a small number appear to be influenced by pastors in the U.S. who have publicly opposed public health rules.

This particular strain of evangelicalism, Gagné said, associates government control with godless communism or socialism.It is rooted in an apocalyptic world view that shares many similarities with QAnon-style conspiracy thinking, with its paranoia of secret programs out to control us through vaccines or internet towers.

“This very much parallels the eschatological fictions that have developed in some evangelical circles about the eventual rise of a one-world government headed by an anti-Christ,” Gagné said.

This mode of thinking might appear to clash with other spiritual groups that have also joined the protests, such as advocates of new-age therapies.

But Martin Geoffroy, an academic who has studied both new-age and right-wing movements, suggested focusing instead on the fundamental values they do share.

“The common thing is that they are all anti-authority movements,” said Geoffroy, who heads CEFIR, the anti-radicalization research centre at Cégep Édouard-Montpetit, a public francophone college in Longueuil.

“Conspiracy theories help them to create a parallel reality where they are the authorities.”

Source: How right-wing extremists, libertarians and evangelicals built Quebec’s movement against COVID-19 restrictions

Anti-immigration groups at protest demand apology from Trudeau | Ottawa Citizen

It would be interesting to know more about the background of the Asian Canadians at the protest as, at first blush, these appear to be curious bedfellows (the website listed below is largely unpopulated):

Hundreds of Asian-Canadian protesters, supported by several white, far-right, anti-immigrant groups stormed Parliament Hill on Sunday afternoon to demand an apology from the prime minister.

According to plans for the protest on voteforright.com, members of the Asian-Canadian community feel victimized by a Toronto girl’s false claim in January that an Asian man cut off her hijab and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apparent rush to view the fictitious incident as a hate crime.

Anti-Muslim and anti racist protestors voiced their views on Sunday on Parliament Hill. Anti-Muslim protestors joined with a group of Chinese-Canadians who were upset about the controversial hijab news story in Toronto. Ashley Fraser/Postmedia ASHLEY FRASER/ POSTMEDIA

“As the real victim of the hijab hoax, our Asian community was completely ignored by PM Trudeau,” reads a statement on the website.

A man who identified himself as “Yuanyuan” said, “There are some out-of-town conservative Chinese racists and they are collaborating basically with some white nationalist groups here in Canada. As a Chinese Canadian, I’m pretty ashamed about that. That’s why I’m here.”

The large Asian group, with members coming from Toronto and Vancouver to join members of the Ottawa Chinese-Canadian community, chartered buses for the event.

“We want to oppose them,” Yuanyuan said. “We don’t want them on our Hill saying they get to represent Canadian values. We know that their rhetoric is basically trying to normalize violence against minorities and marginalized folk. It’s not really a discussion about whether or not multiculturalism is good or not. We know that they stand for genocide.”

About 100 anti-racist protesters — while denouncing white supremacy and chanting about how welcome Muslims are — also repeatedly screamed “f-ck the police.”

Providing security for the Asian protesters were several anti-immigration, ultranationalist groups such as Quebec’s La Meute — or Wolf Pack — and the Northern Guard. Several Proud Boys — a far-right men’s group — were also in attendance.

La Meute’s Stéphane Roch said his members — of which there are 42,000 in Quebec — were in Ottawa to support the Chinese community.

Roch called them “real Canadians” who have been in the country for hundreds of years. “The Chinese community are a very good community. Trudeau don’t listen to them.”

“The government has to work for the citizens, not for themselves,” Roch said. “The power has to go to the citizens. They have to listen to us.”

An organizer with the Chinese-Canadian community who asked a reporter to “just call me Monica” said the event was behind schedule and chose not to speak to a reporter from this newspaper.

Several Chinese-Canadian protesters were there with their children, who held signs condemning the “hijab hoax” and “fake news.” The signs urged the government not to “stir up ethnic disputes.” Multiple people approached by a reporter indicated they did not speak English.

But speakers urged respect for “human rights” and asked that all Canadians be treated equally.

Among the sea of protesters were several placards taking aim at Trudeau, not Muslims.

Evan Balgord, a journalist and researcher who is following the rise of the new far-right movement in Canada, said that what was branded as anti-Muslim is being re-purposed as anti-Trudeau rhetoric.

“They always were anti-Trudeau, anti-Liberal government, anti-multiculturalism, anti-M-103 (a motion to condemn Islamophobia in the country) but the anti-Trudeau rhetoric is coming more and more to the front.”

Police escorted members of both groups away from the demonstration and some were banned from the Hill.

RCMP officers made a handful of arrests during the demonstration, but several of those people were released. A large group of Ottawa police escorted both groups on and off the Hill.

via Anti-immigration groups at protest demand apology from Trudeau | Ottawa Citizen

L’ancien chef de La Meute réplique aux propos de Trudeau | Le Devoir

Hard to know what is the best strategy: call them out and risk giving them more oxygen or ignoring them in the hope that their messages will be less heard.

But in general, whether calling people “deplorables” or “nonos” is likely unproductive; better to call out and contest their statements then label people:

Les propos tenus lundi soir à Québec par Justin Trudeau font tiquer La Meute. Le premier ministre, qui a traité les membres du groupe nationaliste identitaire de « nonos », a été copieusement insulté par l’un des adhérents de premier plan de l’organisation, mardi.

Le premier ministre n’a pas manifesté de regret d’avoir déclenché l’escalade verbale qui se lit dans un message publié sur la page Facebook publique du regroupement par Sylvain « Maïkan » Brouillette, qui taxe Justin Trudeau — sans le nommer — de « trou de cul ».

Le membre du groupe aux positions proches de l’extrême droite a affublé le chef libéral de cette épithète sous prétexte qu’il « a fait des associations et des amalgames révoltants » entre La Meute et le drame de la mosquée de Québec survenu le 29 janvier 2017.

Dans le discours qu’il a livré dans la Vieille Capitale lors de la cérémonie de commémoration de l’attentat qui a fait six victimes, Justin Trudeau a pesté contre les « racistes », ces « nonos qui se promènent avec les pattes de chiens sur le t-shirt ».

C’est ce qui lui a valu la réplique de Sylvain « Maïkan » Brouillette — qui, selon ce que rapportait Vice News en décembre dernier, a abandonné son poste de chef de bande pour redevenir simple membre de La Meute. Il a été impossible de déterminer quelle est sa position hiérarchique actuelle.

« Un nono c’est quelqu’un qui voit une patte de chien au lieu de voir l’emblème du Québec surmonté de ses valeurs de démocratie, de làïcité (sic), de liberté et d’égalité », écrit-il dans sa tirade coiffée du titre « C’est quoi un nono ? ».

« Celui qui fait des associations et des amalgames révoltants entre la Meute et le drame de la grande mosquée de Québec est non seulement un nono, mais un trou de cul », peut-on lire sur la page Facebook qui compte près de 17 000 abonnés.

L’auteur du message soutient également qu’« un nono ce n’est pas quelqu’un qui s’affirme pour défendre ses valeurs », mais bien « quelqu’un qui acceuille (sic) en héro (sic) dans son bureau un criminel comme Joshua Boyle ».

Il fait référence à l’audience qu’a accordée Justin Trudeau dans son bureau du parlement à l’ancien otage des talibans en Afghanistan qui a été rapatrié au Canada en octobre dernier, et qui est depuis sous le coup de multiples accusations criminelles.

Il réserve aussi dans cette publication quelques mots à l’intention de Philippe Couillard. Sans le nommer, il accuse le premier ministre du Québec d’être un « nono » — dans son cas, pour avoir comparé « la colonisation du Canada avec l’immigration moderne ».

Dans son allocution devant la foule réunie pour souligner le premier anniversaire de la tragédie, le premier ministre québécois s’est demandé pourquoi certains citoyens se sentaient plus Québécois que d’autres alors que leurs ancêtres sont aussi des immigrants.

« On est tous venus d’ailleurs rejoindre les Premières Nations, il n’y a que la date qui change. Et cette date ne détermine pas notre niveau de citoyenneté », a fait valoir Philippe Couillard, lundi soir, à Québec.

Trudeau ne regrette pas

Du côté d’Ottawa, Justin Trudeau n’a exprimé mardi aucun regret d’avoir eu recours au terme « nonos ». En marge d’une annonce, il a au contraire promis qu’il serait « toujours là pour dénoncer ceux qui ne sont pas en train de bâtir une société meilleure et plus ouverte à tous ».

Il a argué qu’il y avait « encore des gens intolérants à l’intérieur de notre société », et qu’il en allait de sa « responsabilité » comme premier ministre de « dire clairement quand des propos sont haineux, quand des déclarations ou des gestes sont inacceptables dans cette société ».

Le député conservateur Pierre Paul-Hus ne partage pas cette lecture ; selon lui, de tels propos sont indignes de la fonction qu’occupe Justin Trudeau. « Traiter ces gens-là de nonos, je trouve que ce n’est pas des mots qui devraient sortir de la bouche d’un premier ministre », a-t-il dit.

via L’ancien chef de La Meute réplique aux propos de Trudeau | Le Devoir

Quebec City mayor worried about far-right group linked to cemetery referendum

Valid concern:

A far-right group in Quebec is being warned against further political meddling after it was tied to a referendum campaign that successfully managed to block the construction of a Muslim cemetery.

Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume issued a stern rebuke Tuesday to La Meute, a secret Facebook group with more than 43,000 listed members that believes radical Islam is growing in influence in the province.

“We don’t need private militias to take care of that,” Labeaume said. “We are in society of laws, a democratic society.”

The group played an active role in the early stages of a campaign against a proposed Muslim cemetery in Saint-Apollinaire, Que., a town of 6,400 that’s 35 kilometres southwest of Quebec City.

La Meute supported efforts by resident Sunny Létourneau to gather enough signatures to force the required zoning changes to be submitted to a referendum.

On Sunday, the changes were voted down by a slim majority, with 19 of 36 voters checking the No box.

Aggressive campaigning

The failure of the referendum to pass was seen by many prominent Muslims as a rebuke to their community. The project was spearheaded by Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, the Quebec City mosque where six people were killed in a January attack.

In the wake of the shooting, Labeaume promised Quebec City Muslims to ensure they would have a burial ground in the area, something they have sought for years.

But the referendum campaign in Saint-Apollinaire was marred by aggressive canvassing and misinformation on the part of opponents of the project, said Mayor Bernard Ouellet, who backed the cemetery.

“In the worst of cases, they were talking about being invaded or losing their roots as Quebecers,” he told Radio-Canada following the vote.

Among the documents that were circulated by opponents were articles taken from Poste de Veille, a now-inactive website that had often been accused of posting Islamophobic content.

La Meute promised not to ruffle feathers

It is unclear whether members of the registered no committee were responsible for the campaign tactics Ouellet criticized,

But Létourneau, and several other members of the no-committee, became members of La Meute’s group this spring.

A spokesperson for La Meute said the group ceased its participation in the referendum campaign in April.

She​ asked us to not ruffle any feathers, and we respected that,” Sylvain Brouillette told Radio-Canada, referring to Létourneau.

Since it was formed in 2015 by a group of former Canadian Forces soldiers, La Meute has progressively grown in size and organization.

Earlier this month, members joined another far right group from the Quebec City area — Storm Alliance — to demonstrate against asylum seekers illegally crossing into Canada from the U.S.

In a Facebook post from this spring, Brouillette — writing under his pseudonym, Sylvain Maikan — suggested the group’s involvement in Saint-Apollinaire was a sign of its future political plans.

“Between now the next provincial election, la Meute [sic] will be very active in trying to make people aware of their real power when they stand up, and the citizens of Saint-Apollinaire will held out as an example,” the post reads.

That prospect appeared to unsettle Labeaume on Tuesday.

“They can organize. But I am advising them to be peaceful in Quebec City,” he said. “We won’t accept anything on their part … that could resemble a provocation to violence.”

Source: Quebec City mayor worried about far-right group linked to cemetery referendum – Montreal – CBC News

In Canada, Where Muslims Are Few, Group Stirs Fear of Islamists – The New York Times

More on the extreme right in Canada, making the New York Times (see earlier Inside Quebec’s far right: Take a tour of La Meute, the secretive group with 43,000 members):

Some experts warn that groups like La Meute, however much they eschew violence, create an enabling environment in which hate can grow. “They are embedded in a broader cultural ethos that bestows ‘permission to hate,’” said Barbara Perry, a professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology who has written extensively on right-wing extremism in Canada.

The conversation within La Meute’s private Facebook page can border on hateful. In response to one person’s request about what could be done to prevent construction of a mosque in the neighborhood, another follower suggested pouring pig’s blood on the ground and letting Muslims know the land had been desecrated.

While primarily confined to French-speaking Canada, La Meute lies on a continuum of conservative thought that is propelling politicians like Kellie Leitch, a member of Parliament who is vying for leadership of Canada’s Conservative Party. Ms. Leitch once proposed a tip line for people to report “barbaric cultural practices,” and has suggested that immigrants be screened for “Canadian values” so that the country can maintain “a unified Canadian identity.”

Mr. Beaudry, the son of a onetime lumberjack and heavy equipment operator, joined the Canadian Army when he was 17 and spent years in Germany. He retired from the army after a car accident in 2002 and subsequently spent several months working as a private contractor in Afghanistan. He was greatly influenced by the specter of Taliban rule.

He said he and his friends were motivated by the 2014 killing of two soldiers in Canada in separate episodes, both at the hands of Canadian extremists who had converted to Islam. “We realized something was happening,” Mr. Beaudry said, adding that terrorist attacks in France and Belgium followed soon after.

He said that the primary goal in founding La Meute was to educate members and others about the growth of political Islam in Canada.

Mr. Beaudry spoke specifically about the group’s opposition to the niqab and the burqa, Islamic styles of dress that cover women’s faces. Only a tiny sliver of the Canadian population adopts them, but “if people cannot blend with the society,” Mr. Beaudry said, “it becomes a cancer and if you want to save your life, you have to take action.”

He also believes a parliamentary motion passed last month that condemns Islamophobia is a move to silence criticism of political Islam and is the first step toward an Islamic anti-blasphemy law.

On the private Facebook page, La Meute’s leaders quiz followers, screening for the most informed and dedicated who might fill positions in the hierarchy.

Mr. Beaudry said La Meute was assigning followers to 17 geographic “clans,” each with officers and staff, “so people know who to report to and where to go when things happen.” He said five clans were “fully operational,” and he expected all to be formed by the end of the year.

The group has transportation cells that take people to meetings and has medical units to care for the injured. Some members recently started an online radio station. Last month, La Meute fielded about 400 people in four cities to protest the anti-Islamophobia motion.

“We are trying to teach people that they have much more political power, they matter much more than the majority believes,” Mr. Beaudry said. “We want to influence our world, our politics.”

Inside Quebec’s far right: Take a tour of La Meute, the secretive group with 43,000 members

Worrisome, even if numbers still small (and mainstream parties like the CAQ and PQ that pander to these fears and play identity politics, need to reflect on their impact):

La Meute’s leaders are now attempting to translate the group’s online popularity into concrete political influence.

They hope to become a lobby group of sorts, dedicated to making Quebecers aware of the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism.

“I don’t have the desire to live under Shariah. I don’t want to live under a totalitarian Islamic regime,” said Eric Venne, one of the group’s founders, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who goes by Corvus, after the genus of crows, ravens and rooks.

“But we are heading that way. It may not look like it in 2016. Tomorrow, people might go, ‘Oh.’ But by then it will be too late.”

Where others sputtered, La Meute surged

Corvus started La Meute with Patrick Beaudry, another former soldier, in the fall of 2015, just as the first of 25,000 Syrian refugees began arriving in Canada.

At a sugar shack in the Beauce, south of Quebec City, the pair drew up plans for a hierarchical organization modelled on their military background.

They gave it a name to invoke the sense of camaraderie they felt was needed in the face of what they considered a grave existential threat. In an early communiqué, Corvus described the influx of refugees as a “Trojan horse” for Islamic terrorists.

La Meute is among dozens of social media groups, blogs and websites that have popped up in recent years to give voice to concerns about Islam in Quebec.

But where other groups sputtered, La Meute surged.

The group’s activities were initially confined to its secret Facebook page. But as the group grew — it had more than 40,000 members by the start of the summer — it diversified.

A non-profit organization was registered to serve as La Meute’s fundraising arm, and fundraisers that each drew 150 people were held in Quebec City and the Saguenay.

By August, the group was distributing pamphlets around the province. Later that month, Corvus and several fellow members disrupted an information session near Quebec City organized by a group of volunteers trying to host a family of Syrian refugees.

Source: Inside Quebec’s far right: Take a tour of La Meute, the secretive group with 43,000 members – Montreal – CBC News