Quebec City police arrest 44 at far-right protest and counter-demonstration
Police laud co-operation from far-right group La Meute, but had to use tear gas to keep sides apart
Supporters of Quebec's far-right outnumbered counter-protesters at a demonstration Saturday in Quebec City, where police detained more than 40 people in an effort to keep the two sides from clashing with each other.
Between 300 and 400 members of far-right groups, including La Meute and Storm Alliance, marched in the rain to a convention centre that was hosting a major policy meeting of the governing Quebec Liberal party.
Outside the convention centre, police in riot gear placed themselves between the far-right groups and a counter-demonstration of around 250 anti-racism and anti-capitalist activists.
Quebec City police said they arrested 44 people in two waves. They took 21 people into custody around 12:45 p.m. near the convention centre and confiscated disguises, a sling shot, a billy club and bottles containing an unknown liquid.
"It's tough to say to which group they belonged, but it's clear they intended to counter La Meute's demonstration," said André Turcotte, spokesperson for Quebec City police.
A further 23 people were arrested when they failed to follow police orders to disperse later in the day. Officers used tear gas on counter-protesters who were throwing snowballs at them.
The far-right groups organized their own security for the protest. Members of the Three Per Cent — which fashions itself as a militia — were spotted earlier in the day wearing camouflaged bullet-proof vests and carrying billy clubs.
Turcotte said his force had extensive conversations with members of La Meute ahead of the protest to help their own planning.
"We had a very good collaboration with La Meute. They told us their intentions, their itinerary, where they were headed," he said.
"The other group [the counter-demonstration] told us they were gathering in front of the National Assembly. But we didn't have the same frequency of discussion with them."
Critics of multiculturalism
Leaders of La Meute and Storm Alliance accuse the Liberal government of being too tolerant of the cultural practices of minorities. They consider multiculturalism to be "collective suicide."
They are also opposed to a commission that was initially tasked with examining systemic racism in the province.
Following outcry by opposition parties, and unease among some Liberal politicians, the commission was reoriented towards creating economic opportunities for immigrants and visible minorities.
"We think that we can't allow another four years of Liberal government," said Sylvain Brouilette, one of La Meute's leaders. "This government has scorn for the people."
La Meute and Storm Alliance are the two most visible far-right groups in the province. Saturday marked the first time they have joined forces to organize a protest.
Storm Alliance was formed earlier this year amid the fragmentation of the Canadian chapters of the Soldiers of Odin. Its members have worn white face coverings at recent protests against so-called illegal immigration.
La Meute is a slightly older organization with a wider cross-section of support across the province. It believes that radical Islam poses an active threat to Quebec culture.
- ANALYSIS: Inside Quebec's far right: Where do Quebec's extremist groups fit in?
- Inside Quebec's far right: Radical groups push extreme message
They were joined Saturday by Atalante Québec, an explicitly neo-fascist group that unfurled a banner reading "Le Quebec aux Québécois," or Quebec for Quebecers.
Counter-protesters brought their own banners. One read: "Bienvenue au réfugiés," or welcome refugees.
Emmanuel Lemonde, who was marching with the counter-protesters, said he was dismayed by the image the far-right groups were giving of the province.
"There are more inclusive and un-racist people here in Quebec than racist people," he said.
Quebec City police maintained a heavy presence Saturday. A demonstration by La Meute in August turned violent when counter-protesters clashed with officers. Four people have since been charged in connection with that counter-protest.
Following the events in August, Quebec City's mayor urged the province's political class to confront the rise in support for the far right.
With files from Simon Nakonechny, Angelica Montgomery and Radio-Canada