Quebec's political leaders need to "open their eyes" to the rise of far-right groups in the province, Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume said Wednesday.
Labeaume's city was the site Sunday of a highly organized rally by the far-right group La Meute. It was met by a counter-demonstration that turned violent.
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La Meute's membership appeared to be emboldened by Sunday events, buffeted by a wave of publicity that included the support of acclaimed Quebec singer Marie-Chantal Toupin.
But anti-racism activists and mainstream politicians are increasingly vocal in their concern about the group, which believes that radical Islam and immigration pose a threat to Quebec culture. More than 43,000 people are listed as members of La Meute's "secret" Facebook group, many who post Islamophobic or xenophobic comments.
"Open your eyes. We politicians are in the process of becoming disconnected from the population," Labeaume said during an impromptu news conference in Quebec City.
"Don't be fooled. I'm convinced the message of the far right is more and more efficient."
The Quebec City mayor also said the tendency of politicians to be politically correct was hurting their ability to speak directly about the issues feeding the rise of the far right, such as immigration.
Change in tone for Labeaume
Labeaume's comments Wednesday represent a marked shift from his previous statements about the presence of far-right groups in Quebec City.
In May, Quebec's anti-radicalization centre, which is based in Montreal, expressed a desire to open a permanent office in the provincial capital as well.
Herman Deparice-Okomba, the centre's director, said a satellite bureau was necessary to deal with right-wing extremism (the Montreal bureau deals mainly with Islamist radicalization).
At the time, Labeaume rejected outright the centre's proposed expansion, denying there was a problem that needed to be dealt with.
"We don't feel the need, so there is no need to create something that doesn't meet a need," Labeaume said.
"Our position is very clear: We don't need this in Quebec City, and we won't put in one cent. If we feel the need one day, then we'll do it."
Labeaume maintained his opposition even after it was revealed the Quebec City mosque, where six men were killed in January, has continued to received hate messages.
Labeaume's reversal comes amid newfound willingness on the part of the federal government as well to signal its awareness of the dangers posed by the far right.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Wednesday that Canadian officials had stressed the importance of dealing with right-wing extremism during a June meeting of the country's intelligence allies.
"During those exchanges, Canada made the point that radicalization to violence comes from a variety of sources and it would be foolish to maintain there is only one," Goodale's office said in a statement about the Ottawa meeting of the so-called Five Eyes (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Britain and the United States).
The initial statement from that meeting made no mention of right-wing extremism, referring only to the threat from radical Islam.
CSIS, and other members of the Canadian security establishment, have for many years prioritized gathering intelligence on ISIS and al-Qaeda over white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.
Canada called on its allies to distribute their intelligence resources more evenly.
"Our allies must ensure that resources are deployed against other threats to national security as well," the statement from Goodale's office said.