Montreal·Analysis

Quebec's far right looks for show of strength one month after mosque attack

Did the surge in sympathy following the mosque attack in Quebec City strike a blow to the province’s far-right movement? It doesn’t appear so.

The province’s far right groups strike aggressive tone against efforts to marginalize them

Members of the far-right group La Meute in Montreal protesting a parliamentary motion condemning Islamophobia. (Jonathan Montpetit/CBC)

The growth of Quebec's far-right movement appeared to languish in the wake of the deadly shooting at a Quebec City mosque in January.

A reflective and remorseful mood descended on the province's political and civic leaders. Many blamed the incipient far-right scene for contributing to an atmosphere where open expressions of Islamophobia were tolerated.

La Meute, perhaps the largest and most organized of a series of Facebook groups espousing far right views, saw its membership drop by several hundred in the two weeks following the shooting.

PEGIDA Quebec, an off-shoot of a German anti-immigrant street movement, had its own Facebook page removed by the site.

And the administrator of a moderately popular group —  Pas d'Islam Radical et de Charia au Québec — promised to shut down his page after the shooting.

"It is healthier for us all to build bridges as opposed to walls," the administrator said in a Facebook post announcing his change of heart. "Hate is exhausting and breeds hate."

But now, little over a month following the mosque attack, the far right has renewed its defiant and aggressive tone, intent on remaining visible in spite of the deep unease its presence causes many Quebecers.

La Meute members Sylvain Brouillette, Eric Corvus, Patrick Beaudry (left to right) at a fundraising dinner last year. Corvus and Beaudry helped found the group in 2015. (Jonathan Montpetit/CBC)

Hostile environment

More than any other far-right group, it was La Meute that came under the most scrutiny following the shooting.

Its size — more than 40,000 members are listed on its 'secret' Facebook page — and willingness to conduct interviews meant it was widely cited by French-language media.

But the group's leaders were displeased at its portrayal, and warned media of retaliation over what they considered unfair treatment.

They also attracted the attention of police, though a spokesperson for the group said the discussions were short and that police quickly realized there was nothing criminal about their activities.

Nevertheless, it contributed to a sense among La Meute members that they are now operating in an environment openly hostile to its message.

"Certain citizens are more nervous since the attack in Ste-Foy and denounce the members of La Meute, or other groups, without ever having spoken to them," said Sylvain Brouillette, a member of La Meute's leadership council.

While La Meute did denounce the mosque shooting, the conciliatory attitude was short lived.
PEGIDA Quebec joined La Meute at Saturday's protest in Montreal against M-103. (Jonathan Montpetit/CBC)

In a post about the funerals for the victims, La Meute wondered why the coffins were draped with flags from their countries of birth, as opposed to the fleurs-de-lys.

"Have we already become a province of Algeria and I didn't know about it," Brouillette wrote in a post to the group on Feb. 3.

By shifting to the offensive, La Meute has managed to reverse its declining membership. It is now considering selling membership cards to finance office space.

The group also scored an important PR coup last month when Claude Patry, a former Bloc Quebecois and NDP MP, announced publicly that he had joined the group.

But La Meute will face its biggest test yet this weekend, when it takes part in country-wide protests against M-103, a motion before the House of Commons condemning Islamophobia.

This marks the first time La Meute will take to the streets as a group. It has printed dozens of flags and posters for the event.

"Everyone is waiting for the first outing of La Meute," the group said in a post to members on Friday. "The nation will see who we are: patriotic citizens who act to defend their culture."

A different context

While protests are taking place across the country, the demonstrations in Quebec will be especially noteworthy given heightened fears within the Muslim community following the mosque attack.

Even though politicians have called for more inclusive social relations, the province has seen a recent surge in the number of hate crimes directed at Muslims.

Montreal police said 30 hate crimes had been reported in the city since the Jan. 29th shooting. There was an average of 11 per month last year.

Several far right groups gathered in Quebec City in November. Around 100 people attended the protest. (Aude Brassard-Hallé/Radio-Canada)

But for members of Quebec's far right, M-103 doesn't address a real social problem. It is, rather, another attempt by mainstream politicians to use the mosque shooting to silence their concerns.

Many members of the movement see Saturday's protests as an opportunity to demonstrate their resilience against efforts to marginalize their message.

La Meute will be joined by groups such as the Soldiers of Odin and PEGIDA, which immediately managed to restore its Facebook page after it was taken down last month. 

"We have the impression of operating in a different context [since the shooting]," an administrator of the PEGIDA page told CBC News.

"Our page and our members are constantly being reported and our page is continually monitored. Our freedom of expression is directly affected."

The administrator of Pas d'Islam Radical et de Charia au Québec, for his part, never quite followed through on his promise.

The page is still up and running. M-103, said a recent post, was evidence the Trudeau government is "working for radical Islam."

About the Author

Jonathan Montpetit is a journalist with CBC Montreal. He covers politics and social affairs.