The election of Donald Trump, Brexit, the electoral surge of anti-immigrant parties across Europe — it's a confluence of events that has many speaking of a global far-right moment, a growing neo-nationalist movement.

This movement has its representatives in Quebec. CBC Montreal has profiled some of these groups in its "Inside Quebec's far right" series, including La Meute, Soldiers of Odin and Atalante Québec.

It is, perhaps, not surprising that many members of these groups object to being lumped under the "far right" heading.

"I can live with the term right, but extreme right is clearly an exaggeration," Sylvain Maikan, a spokesman for La Meute, told CBC Montreal following our profile of the group.

"We are not religious fanatics nor racists or homophobes, who usually characterize the extreme right."

But the groups featured in our series share a number of characteristics with other iterations of the global far-right moment. Should they trigger the same level of concern?

A new brand of conservatism

Like the so-called alt-right in the U.S. or the Front National in France, these groups reject established conservative parties.

For at least a generation, if not more, establishment conservatives in the West have advocated for free trade and greater integration of the world economy.

The far right, by contrast, is skeptical of globalization.

Their concern is less with its economics and more with the ability of local cultures and traditions to survive amid a surge of strangers.

Soldiers of Odin

The Quebec City branch of the Soldiers of Odin has been patrolling various neighbourhoods of the city for several months. They say they are concerned about the rise of radical Islam. (Jonathan Montpetit/CBC)

Whereas advocates of globalization claim it comes with the creation of a global "we," the far right sees it as a process by which a "they" encroaches upon an "us."

Left unchecked, they believe, globalization and its corollary — immigration — threaten to erase all that is unique to the Québécois way of life.

By the same token, official multiculturalism is seen as providing legal protection to cultural practices at odds with entrenched values.

This line of argument never travels far before singling out a particular threat: radical Islam. From the perspective of the far right, it is a threat that is closer at hand and more insidious than mainstream society realizes.

"It's not yet in our streets," said Katy Latulippe, who heads the Quebec chapter of Soldiers of Odin.  

"But we are conscious that the government is in the process of allowing lots of Islamists into Quebec and Canada, and everyone is conscious that they're allowing sharia law on certain points."

Such concerns have brought accusations of Islamophobia. Ontario briefly debated setting up sharia courts in 2004 and 2005, but it has been a relative non-issue in Canada ever since. 

Less established, fewer members

To be sure, the far right in Quebec is less institutionalized and less established than it is in Europe, or the U.S. for that matter.

There is no far-right parliamentary party on the provincial scene, no equivalent to France's Front National or Austria's Freedom Party.

Quebec's most prominent neo-fascist group, Atalante, has a fraction of the members of CasaPound, a similar group in Italy that it's partly modelled on.

CasaPound operates a network of squats, bookstores, pubs and social programs around Italy. Its membership is estimated in the thousands.

By comparison, Atalante rarely attracts more than two dozen people to its gatherings, judging from its Facebook feed.

And even La Meute, with its 43,000 Facebook members, struggles to get members to sign petitions.

There are, moreover, reasons to think Quebec won't see far-right groups breach the walls of the National Assembly, at least not in the near future.

As many political scientists have pointed out, the first-past-the-post electoral system presents a steep barrier of entry for small parties.

Far-right political parties have done better in proportional-representation systems (Netherlands), referendums (U.K.) and presidential races (U.S., France).

AFP_KH0E9

The leaders of three of Europe's far right parties: Geert Wilders of the Dutch Freedom Party, Frauke Petry of Alternative for Germany and Marine Le Pen of France's Front National (left to right). Unlike in Europe, the far right in Quebec has no legislative presence. (Roberto Pfeil/AFP/Getty Images)

Britain's populist Independence Party, for instance, has only one seat in the House of Commons, but then-leader Nigel Farage yielded outsized influence in the Brexit referendum campaign.

At the same time, whatever barriers exist for Quebec's far right, they are seen as further evidence of an unrepresentative system, dominated by elites and in urgent need of overhaul.

"The system works to maintain the system," said Patrick Beaudry, one of La Meute's founders.

A climate of intolerance

The far right's lack of an institutional presence, however, shouldn't be confused with lack of influence.

Far right groups in Quebec are more organized and more vocal than they have been in a generation, perhaps longer, even if determining their actual size can be difficult.

"It's not a question of numbers per se, it's much more a question of them being more active online and offline," Benjamin Ducol, head of research at the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence in Montreal, told CBC's Radio Noon recently.

"They are certainly getting more active in terms of trying to disseminate their message, trying to mobilize their members."

They exist within a climate of rising intolerance in Quebec. Hate crimes jumped by almost 40 per cent between 2013 and 2014, according to the most recent Quebec government figures available.​

The increase was largely attributed to a rise in the number of religiously motivated incidents.

That far-right groups in Quebec are, to date, most active online is no reason to discount their reach.  

Dawson hijab

Members of La Meute targeted Dawson College's Muslim Student Association after they offered students to try wearing a hijab. (Submitted by Nevin Hoque)

 

Researchers studying the proliferation of far-right Facebook groups during the 2013 debate about the proposed Charter of Values found a radicalization dynamic at work.

These online groups "create a general climate of mistrust where even the most moderate Muslim is suspected of having a hidden agenda," wrote Frédérick Nadeau and Denise Helly in a study published last year in Canadian Ethnic Studies.

In December, police arrested a contributor to a far-right Facebook group, Québécois debout contre l'islam radical, for uttering threats against a prominent Muslim leader in Montreal.  

It is unclear whether far-right groups are themselves driving the climate of intolerance or, as is more likely, they are simply its beneficiaries.

Regardless, their presence reflects a tone shift in the language of social and political life in Quebec.


Read the entire series here: