Canada Day on Roxham Road: protesters, supporters clash over asylum seekers at border
Far-right, migrant advocacy groups gather at popular Quebec border crossing
As a small group of asylum seekers headed through a wooded area at the Canada-U.S. border crossing in Hemmingford, Que. on Canada Day, two clashing groups of protesters and supporters waited nearby.
Storm Alliance and La Meute, self-described "ultranationalist" groups, organized a demonstration in time for the nation's 150th anniversary at Roxham Road to protest would-be refugee claimants crossing the border on foot.
"We want to send a message, we want the government to send a message to anybody that wants to cross over illegally, unlawfully that there's going to be people looking out for you," said Dave Tregget, the national president of Storm Alliance.
As dozens donned black T-shirts and patrolled the crossing Saturday morning, they were met by a counter protest organized by a migrant advocacy group.
Holding up colourful posters welcoming refugees, Solidarity Across Borders members also gathered at the popular spot for asylum seekers.
"They are a group that's enabling racism and hiding behind other issues," said Montreal-based activist Jaggi Singh.
"They say they're defending the charter of rights — well if you're really defending the charter of rights defend the rights of refugees to cross and make their claims."
The busload of supporters clapped as a Nigerian family made their way through the ditch and into Canada, while others raised questions about asylum seekers and lax border laws.
"They're criminals," said Pearl Roy. "They're coming into our country illegally and we're welcoming this?"
The family was then taken into custody by RCMP officers and brought to their offices, said Staff Sergeant Brian Byrne.
Byrne said asylum seekers are taken into custody so officers run background checks. They then can start the process of making a refugee claim.
War of words
The two groups confronted each other from across a divide created by Sûreté du Québec and RCMP officers, who wouldn't let protesters from either side make their way through.
It isn't the first time far-right and migrant advocacy groups from Quebec have made their way to at the popular crossing spot in the Montérégie region.
While members of the Storm Alliance and La Meute have been routinely gathering in clusters to quietly observe asylum seekers for a few months, the situation on Canada Day quickly grew tense.
Singh turned to a woman on the other side, wearing a white-and-red shirt with a maple leaf on and with the words "old stock and proud."
"What do you mean old stock? Where are you from?" he said.
She took a sip from her water bottle and spit it out in his direction, smiling briefly, before giving Singh the middle finger.
"I'm not any less Canadian or Québécois than you," Singh said.
With files from CBC's Simon Nakonechny, Benjamin Shingler and Radio-Canada