The Current

Far-right Quebec group linked to vote against Muslim cemetery, says writer

Jonathan Montpetit identifies links with far-right group La Meute and the "No" side of Saint-Apollinaire's rejected Muslim cemetery proposal.
Mourners pray at a funeral service for three of the six victims of January's Quebec City mosque shooting. The tragedy revealed Muslims in the provincial capital had no designated nearby cemetery to bury their dead. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

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On July 16, a proposal to create a Muslim cemetery in the Quebec community of Saint-Apollinaire was vetoed in a local referendum. 

The project was spearheaded by the same mosque that was the site of a shooting rampage that left six dead in January.

Hassan Guillet, an imam at a mosque outside Montreal, and a member of the Council of Imams of Quebec, says the result left many Muslims feeling rejected by Canadian society.

"Muslims are saying if we are not accepted dead, how are we to be accepted alive?"

The mayors of Saint-Apollinaire and Quebec City have both expressed their disappointment in the results, and Premier Philippe Couillard says the province will act to ensure Muslims do get their own burial grounds.

Definitely the referendum was, I would say, kidnapped by … the far right.-Hassan Guillet

But opponents of the project campaigned against it door-to-door, saying they preferred only secular, non-denominational cemeteries.

With a close vote and a significant percentage having not cast their ballot, some are attributing the result to an indifference towards the burial rights of Muslims, or even a kind of  "passive racism."

However, Guillet maintains the tipping point was the surprise presence of an alt-right resistance.

"Definitely the referendum was, I would say, kidnapped by … the far right," he tells The Current.

"Many people were saying that they were harassed by the far right."

Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume has warned far-right group La Meute to stop interfering. (Radio-Canada)

Jonathan Montpetit, CBC Montreal senior writer, links one particular far-right Quebec group, La Meute, to the "No" side of Saint-Apollinaire's cemetery referendum.

"We know that several members of the 'No' committee are members of La Meute," says Montpetit.

"To quote a recent communiqué by the group, this referendum was a chance to wake up, show their power and kind of stick it to the elites."

La Meute began online in 2015, started by a group that included several former Canadian Forces soldiers. It existed largely as a secret Facebook page, but steadily grew and now has 43,000 members.

"This [referendum] is the most recent manifestation of a desire to get involved in politics."

As of late, La Meute, has started ramping up its public presence. The group is seen above protesting the anti-Islamophobia motion, M-103, in Montreal earlier this year. (Jonathan Montpetit/CBC)

Montpetit says La Meute's roll in the "No" campaign had two phases.

"In order to trigger the referendum, they needed to gather enough signatures on a petition. At that early stage La Meute was more actively involved. Local members were helping residents in Saint-Apollinaire gather enough signatures to trigger the referendum."

But after April, the head of the "No" committee asked La Meute to take a less visible role, says Montpetit.

"Their involvement may be in an unofficial capacity but their interest in the outcome was vivid, very expressed, and they cited the referendum as the type of policy issue, the type of political event, they would like to get involved in in the future."

Listen to the conversation at the top of this post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Karen Marley, Donya Ziaee and Kristin Nelson.