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.
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"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.
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."
In previous interviews, and in online publications, La Meute has repeatedly stressed it is a non-violent group dedicated to change through democratic channels.
On Tuesday evening, Brouillette responded to the Quebec City mayor's concerns in a Facebook post to the group's members.
"You are warned wolves, stay calm or else Mr. Labeaume will show us how things work in Quebec," he wrote. "In other words, just be yourselves."