Far-right group targets Dawson College after hijab event

Dawson College and its Muslim Students Association have become the targets of criticism by members of a far-right group in Quebec that claims to be concerned about the rise of radical Islam.

La Meute members criticized student group after Islamic Awareness Day event

Members of a far-right group reacted to this activity, which was part of Islamic Awareness Day at Dawson College last month. (Submitted by Nevin Hoque)

Dawson College and its Muslim Students Association have become the targets of criticism by members of a far-right group in Quebec that claims to be concerned about the rise of radical Islam.

The student association held an event last month in the cafeteria of the Montreal English-language CEGEP. 

Students were invited to try wearing a hijab, which, unlike some other Muslim garb, is not associated with particularly conservative branches of Islam.

Though the student association holds similar activities every semester as part of Islamic Awareness Day, the November edition was covered by the French-language newspaper, the Journal de Montréal.   

That article was then posted on the members-only secret section of the Facebook page belonging to La Meute, an online organization started by a pair of former Canadian soldiers, boasting 43,000 members.

La Meute, which recently gave a CBC journalist access to the members-only section, has become increasingly vocal about immigration and identity issues since its formation last year.

Sylvain Maikan (left) is La Meute's spokesman. He's seen here with the group's co-founders Eric Corvus (centre) and Patrick Beaudry. (Jonathan Montpetit/CBC)

Members of the group encouraged each other to denounce the event publicly and take their concerns to the CEGEP's administration. 

"I am very angry," wrote one member. "Please, it's important to take action by phoning the college to tell them that this is unacceptable."

Dawson received about a dozen complaints, including emails, phone messages and Facebook messages, said Donna Varrica, the CEGEP's spokeswoman.

Though she said none of the complainants identified themselves as being from of any particular group, several La Meute members took to its Facebook page to claim they had expressed their displeasure to the college.  

A screen grab taken from the secret section of La Meute's Facebook page. (Facebook)

Varrica cited one complaint in which someone claimed to be "stupefied" the college would let the event go ahead. Another complaint questioned how the college could sanction such an event "here in Quebec."

Asked if any student association at the college had ever been the subject of a similar backlash, Varrica said, "Not in my 15 years."

Hijab symbol of oppression for La Meute

La Meute said the campaign was not organized by the group's leaders but rather was an independent initiative of its members. The group nevertheless believes the hijab is a symbol of oppression.  

"For us, the wearing of the veil is squarely an act of political indoctrination, because not being under the jurisdiction of Shariah here, no female Muslim is obliged to wear it," La Meute spokesman Sylvain Maikan told CBC News.

Members of the Muslim Students Association were also singled out for criticism.

A female member of the association, pictured in the Journal de Montréal article wearing a hijab, received a series of confrontational messages on her Facebook page.

At least one of the accounts sending the messages belongs to a member of La Meute.  

"Instead of showing it's cool and fine, show the real side where women are mistreated and girls are forced to marry adults and women are forced to listen to their husbands and are beaten," reads one message from the La Meute member, written in French. 

"It all starts with that darn piece of cloth.... Do you approve of that???? ... Poor you."  

Correcting misconceptions

With personal comments being directed at one of their fellow members, the Muslim Students Association felt compelled to pen an open letter calling for tolerance and better understanding of Islam.

'Why do we continue to harvest hate when we sow love?' - Open letter from Dawson's Muslim Student Association 

"We had to do something about that because we can't let that happen," Nevin Hoque, president of the student association, told CBC News in a recent interview.

"One of the biggest misconceptions was that women who wear the hijab are forced to," he added. "They're not forced at all. They have a choice to wear it."

Nevin Hoque, president of Dawson College's Muslim Students Association, helped organize the Islamic Awareness Day event that prompted the outcry. (Jonathan Montpetit/CBC)

The letter, which was submitted to the Dawson Student Union, says Islamophobic comments only motivate MSA members to work harder and make a positive contribution to society.

"We made efforts to live in harmony with everyone so why do we continue to harvest hate when we sow love," the letter reads. 

The CEGEP's administration reached out to the MSA following the outcry and encouraged members of the group to call security if ever they feel threatened.

"They've been assured by the college that before anything else, they're Dawson students, and they're allowed to share their culture," Varrica said. 

About the Author

Jonathan Montpetit is a journalist with CBC Montreal.