Lacolle border reopened as protests by anti-racist, far-right groups dwindle

Riot police held protesters back from clashing near the Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., border crossing Saturday morning as anti-racist and far-right groups gathered to protest.

Official border crossing at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle was closed for several hours Saturday afternoon

The protest at the Lacolle border died down later in the afternoon and the border was reopened. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

Anti-racist and far-right protesters faced off near a temporary camp set up to house asylum seekers near the Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., border crossing Saturday surrounded by a heavy police presence, but the protest didn't escalate into violence.

The official Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle border has been reopened after it was closed for about four hours, according to the CBSA Quebec Twitter account.

About 100 anti-racist protesters from the group Solidarity Across Borders met around 10 a.m. and walked down the highway close to the border, holding signs reading "No one is illegal" and "Refugees Welcome."

A thick line of Sûreté du Québec police officers kept the anti-racist and far-right protesters separated.

The anti-racist protesters stayed in place while members of the self-declared "ultranationalist" group Storm Alliance began to trickle away mid-afternoon.

'Not against immigration'

Earlier in the day about 125 members of Storm Alliance gathered in the parking lot of a shopping mall a few kilometres from the border before walking towards the temporary camp. 

Another wave of about 100 more Storm Alliance protesters joined the original group near the border, at one point outnumbering the anti-racists groups.

Police sent in officers in tactical gear, working to prevent a clash between the groups.

Anti-racism protesters gather near the St-Bernard-Lacolle, Que. border crossing on Saturday. At right, activist Jaggi Singh, who was arrested in a counter-protest in Quebec City earlier in September, holds a megaphone. (Melissa Francois/Radio-Canada)

"We're against the politics of the federal government and Quebec government," said Daniel St-Hilaire, who came from Montreal to protest with Storm Alliance at the border. "We want basically that the governments respect Canadian law."

"We're not against immigration. My wife, she's from Africa, my wife is Muslim and she's black," he told CBC. "We're not against immigration, we're against massive immigration."

The group is critical of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and accuse him of being too welcoming to refugees. They blame Trudeau for the surge of asylum seekers crossing at Lacolle over the past six months.

According to Radio-Canada, police "intercepted" one protester, who was drawing on a border post building with chalk. 

'Message of welcome'

"It's a message of welcome at the border today," said Anas Bouslikhane, one of the members of Solidarity Across Borders.  

"Refugees are welcome in Canada, we have a place for everyone, there's no reason to be worried, there's no panic, there's no refugee crisis," he said.

Members of the ultranationalist group Storm Alliance stand near the Lacolle border crossing on Saturday. The group said they're protesting the federal government's stance on immigration. (Simon Nakonechy/CBC)

"I think it's terrible that groups like Storm Alliance exist and are gaining some approval," said Frances Ravensbergen. "I think we need to have solidarity with refugees. I think we need to welcome diversity and I think we need to give a different message to Canadians than a lot of falsehoods that are getting out there." 

Ravensbergen said she doesn't think Canada is doing its part to accept enough refugees, compared with countries like Germany.

Crossings slow

The scene is taking place a few kilometres from the official Canada-U.S. border crossing. The stretch of border near Hemmingford is the busiest in Canada for illegal crossings, with thousands of asylum seekers walking across from the U.S. during the height of the summer, and making their way along Quebec's Roxham Road. 

The Canadian Forces have removed their diesel tanks from the temporary refugee camp set up near the border crossing due to security concerns over the protest. 

Earlier this week, the military dismantled about half the tents at the border camp, 35 of the 75 tents that were set up to house the thousands of asylum seekers.

In total 13, 211 people have been intercepted by the RCMP for crossing at unofficial entry points since the start of the year, with 5,550 crossing into Quebec in August alone. 

Members of the far-right group Storm Alliance gather in a parking lot near the Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle border crossing in Quebec. The group says it is protesting Justin Trudeau, and the fact that thousands of people have walked across the border illegally from the United States this summer. (Simon Nakonechy/CBC)

However, the number of people crossing dropped significantly in September, to between 40 to 80 asylum seekers a day. 

Many of the recent wave of asylum seekers crossing into Quebec are Haitians who have been living in America for years but now face deportation after U.S. President Donald Trump announced in May he wouldn't be extending temporary protection status (TPS) for Haitian nationals past January, when that status is set to expire.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said that activist Jaggi Singh was arrested. In fact, Jaggi Singh was not arrested.
    Sep 30, 2017 4:23 PM ET

With files from Simon Nakonechy, Melissa Francois and David Cochrane