Extremist groups come out of shadows in Quebec to ‘fight radical Islam’
Tattooed and wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with a wolf paw, Patrick Beaudry admits being in the second year of a political movement “that is perhaps more radical” than others.
La Meute, a far-right group in Quebec of which he is a founder, does not promote extremist or racist views, he insists, while confessing a liking for the French National Front of Marine Le Pen.
His motivation, however, is unequivocal.
“Our fight is with radical Islam,” Beaudry said.
La Meute is not a lone actor in Quebec. Other groups seeking independence or opposing immigration include Soldiers of Oden and the Federation of Native Quebecers (FQS).
They are all close or affiliated to the far-right. Engaged by issues such as secularism or the veiling of Muslim women, they are no longer shy to speak out to try and influence political debate.
“What I hear from the National Front charms me,” says Beaudry, who also agrees with the position of the FQS, which welcomed Le Pen’s recent visit to Quebec, which proved fertile ground.
About 20 per cent of expatriates in the province voted for Le Pen in French presidential elections in April -- twice the rate of support of French citizens residing throughout Canada.
Membership of groups such as La Meute – some of which are interlaced and affiliated with international organisations – range from a few dozen to thousands. Most are held together by the charisma of their leader.
“A group can disappear overnight because of an internal schism or a decision by its members to self-dissolve or go underground,” said Aurelie Campana, a far-right specialist in Canada.
But the movements are undoubtedly coming out of the woodwork.
“Until very recently, these extreme right-wing groups refused to be part of political debates and public discourse,” said the professor at Laval University in Quebec City.
“Many associate the extreme right with racism and, to say racist is to be stigmatised. These groups want to seen as legitimate,” Campana added.
Tensions, however, have run high.
Last fall, 50 far right sympathisers protested outside the Quebec legislature waving placards that read: “Death to Terrorists, Islam out.”
And in March, nearly 200 demonstrated against a motion in Canada’s parliament condemning Islamaphobia. The motion was adopted after a shooting rampage at a mosque in Quebec City killed six worshippers.
The far right quickly distanced itself from the action of the young attacker seemingly inspired by their rhetoric who is now in custody awaiting prosecution.
A refugee group also noted that gunman Alexandre Bissonnette espoused in online posts positions taken by US President Donald Trump, Le Pen and a Quebec group that rejects multiculturalism.
But, like their brethren in Europe, the far-right groups in Canada have taken a firm stand against immigration, seizing on problems arising from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s welcoming of 40,000 Syrian refugees.
“Extreme right-wing groups in Quebec have a number of objectives,” said Maxime Fiset, a former FQS member. They are “anti-immigrant, ultra-nationalist or neo-fascist,” and see secularism as a means to combat radical Islam, he said.
La Meute and its contemporaries hope to make a breakthrough in next year’s elections in the French-speaking province where liberals now rule.
Horizon Quebec Actuel, another party affiliated with France’s National Front, contested a by-election in late May in Montreal.
Its campaign posters featured the split image of a young woman wearing a blue bonnet on one side and a black veil [niqab] on the other.
“We ask immigrants to adopt the customs of the people of Quebec, it has nothing to do with racism,” said its leader Alexandre Cormier-Denis.