Far-right protest in Quebec City worries anti-racism advocates

A far-right protest that drew several hundred people to the streets of Quebec City over the weekend is raising alarm among those who have devoted their life to opposing racist views.

Holocaust survivor, activist decry anti-immigrant sentiment express at Sunday's rally

Demonstrators of a right wing group, "La Meute" walk in silence to the legislature, Sunday, in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

A far-right protest that drew several hundred people to the streets of Quebec City over the weekend is raising alarm among those who have devoted their life to opposing racist views. 

"It's a very difficult moment to live," says Marcel Tenenbaum, a Holocaust survivor originally from Belgium who immigrated to Montreal in 1951.

He told CBC Montreal's Daybreak on Monday he was "disturbed' by the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., that left three people dead and dozens more injured, and further troubled by the tumultuous events that unfolded Sunday in Quebec City. 

Marcel Tenenbaum is a Montrealer and survivor of the Holocaust. (Gregory Todaro/CBC)

Among the group in Charlottesville, at least two members of Quebec group La Meute, a far-right group that believes Quebec culture and society are currently threatened by radical Islam.

And while La Meute (Wolf Pack), has distanced itself from last weekend's events in Virginia, supporters came out in full force Sunday protesting against what they termed "illegal immigration."

Tenenbaum, who was five years old at the beginning of the Nazi invasion of Belgium, said it makes no difference to him that La Meute doesn't openly target Jewish people.

"They select their target," said Tenenbaum, author of Of Men, Monsters, and Mazel: Surviving the Final Solution in Belgium.

"They say 'you're acceptable, but we don't want people who are Muslims.' To split your beliefs, either you believe in what's right for people or you don't believe. But you cannot be like, 'I like you better than I like the other half."

Protest turns violent

On Sunday, members of La Meute found themselves penned inside a parking garage as counter-demonstrators tried to block them from proceeding on their planned march to the National Assembly.

Four hour laters, after the counter-protesters had been dispersed, members of La Meute marched through the streets with a police escort.

The counter-demonstration was attended by a mix of concerned residents and smaller group dressed in black, afiilliated with the so-called antifa, or anti-fascist, movement. 

The rally began peacefully, but was declared illegal by Quebec City police when protestors jostled with authorities and threw projectiles at La Meute members.

Jaggi Singh, Montreal-based activist who works with Solidarity Across Borders, was arrested but not charged.

He said he was released in a Quebec City suburb with the promise of getting ticket in the mail.

Activist Jaggi Singh was arrested during an anti-racism demonstration, in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

In his view, the goal of the counter-protesters was to "prevent racists and Islamophobes from having a public platform."

Singh condemned La Meute, saying their anti-Islamic position is "linked to the increasing climate of Islamaphobia and hatred of Muslims in a city where we had the Quebec city mosque shootings."

But he wouldn't go so far as to condemn the violence initiated by some protesters, saying that it wasn't his place to speak for everything that happened at the demonstration as a whole, and that "sometimes these protests get messy."

"I think we need to evaluate it and be more effective the next time," he said.

The violence of the counter-protest contrasts with similar demonstrations in Vancouver and Boston where planned rallies by the far-right were vastly outnumbered by peaceful anti-racism demonstrations.

Couillard condemns far right, violence

The far-right protests in Quebec City were condemned by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard. But Couillard was also critical of the tactics of the counter-protesters.

People march during an anti-racism demonstration, in Quebec City on Sunday. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Following the violence on Sunday, the premier took to Twitter, saying that people have the right to demonstrate peacefully with zero tolerance for violence.

"We condemn violence and intimidation. We live in a democracy where respect must be the norm and not the exception," he wrote.

David Poitras, a spokesperson for Quebec City police, said police will be looking through videotape and photo evidence as well as gathering officer testimony. 

There is a strong possibility people will be arrested and charged, he said. 

With files from CBC Daybreak