En raison de la qualité de l’article, nous le relayons intégralement, simplement.
an article by Catherine Solyom, Montreal Gazette
There was a time when Daniel Gallant would get up in the morning looking for his first fight.
“I decided to show my dedication to the movement by committing an assault every day for a year,” said the former white supremacist, listing off his weapons of choice: his fists, a beer stein, a car door, billy clubs, a hockey stick.
Now Gallant, 41, who has turned the Swastika tattoo on his stomach into a raven, is trying to prevent others from following in his steel-toed boot steps down the same violent path.
His job just got tougher with the election of Donald Trump, he says.
David Duke, the former “imperial wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan who was running for the senate in Louisiana, was among the first to congratulate Trump on his election night victory, claiming some of the credit for his campaign.
Duke himself lost, but hours later, the KKK marched on the streets of North Carolina. They are planning a “victory parade” Dec. 3.
If anyone thought Trump, now elected, would distance himself from his more extreme backers, they will have to think again: Trump just named his campaign chief Steve Bannon – the founder of the alt-right website Breitbart, and widely seen as racist, misogynist and anti-semitic – as his chief strategist and “senior counsellor.”
Then came Front National Leader Marine Le Pen, up for election in France next year, proclaiming with Trump’s election a “new world order.”
Trump’s promises to ban Muslims from the U.S. and build a wall to keep out Mexicans, among other anti-immigrant proposals, have been cheered by far-right groups across Europe.
In Canada, while ultranationalist groups also revel in Trump’s win, Gallant and others are warning police and governments to start paying more attention — a lot more attention — to the Trump effect moving north, and the signs that far-right ideology is becoming part of the new normal here, too.
Hate crimes on the rise in Quebec and Montreal
At first glance the presence of white nationalist groups in Quebec seems almost farcical. A dozen white men in matching black T-shirts marching with Quebec flags onto the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City recently to declare “Terroristes à mort, Islam dehors” (Death to terrorists, Islam out!)
The Montreal outing in February of PEGIDA Quebec, a group inspired by its much more popular namesake in Europe (PEGIDA is the German acronym for the European Patriots Against the Islamization of the West), was shouted down by anti-racists within minutes.
But what little research has been done on far right-groups in Quebec and Canada suggests they are more prevalent than we think, and seem to be growing.
A study released in February by academics Barbara Perry, of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, and Ryan Scrivens, from Simon Fraser University, notes that these groups are constantly changing, splintering and reforming under new leadership, making it difficult to keep track of them.
It’s a moving target,” says Perry, a professor in the Faculty of Social Science and Humanities at UOIT, who enlisted police forces across the country to participate in the research, as well as current and former members of far right groups.
“But especially in the last couple of years we believe there is both change and growth — law enforcement and former members with their ears to the ground suggest there are more groups and larger groups, in hot spots across the country.”
There are now an estimated 100 groups across Canada, including 20 to 25 in Quebec — each with 15 to 100 members.
Perry says the neo-Nazi skinhead movement in particular is thriving in Quebec, as opposed to elsewhere in Canada, largely thanks to the skinhead music scene.
Aurélie Campana, a professor at Université Laval, has also written about the variety of skinhead groups in the province, which include political parties, music bands, forums and websites, and of their motivations: from the preservation of Quebec identity to the promotion of violence toward immigrants.
One of the more prominent ultranationalist groups is the Fédération des québécois de souche, whose founder, Maxime Fiset, was convicted for disseminating hate propaganda in 2009. Fiset has since renounced the far-right, but those who took his place welcomed Trump’s election.
“After the Brexit, here’s the election of Donald Trump,” read one post on the FSQ website. “With such a wave, we can hope for the election of Marine Le Pen in 2017!”
Perry says the groups are thriving under an “enabling climate” — with the divisive discourse of the Charter of Values in Quebec, and some of the policies of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper nationally, especially after the terrorist attacks on Parliament Hill and in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu. She cited the government’s focus during the last federal election campaign on banning niqabs from citizenship ceremonies, and using rhetoric that links immigration and terrorism.
“There’s a correlation,” she said. “In (far-right) blogs, Tweets and Facebook sites, we see the comments made that are favourable (to these policies), shining a light on (former Parti Québécois leader) Pauline Marois, the Charter and even Harper. The perception among white supremacists is that they’re on their side.”
There’s also a correlation with the spike in reported hate crimes, Perry said, particularly with Islamophobic and anti-Semitic violence in Montreal and Toronto.
Data from the Quebec Public Safety Department and the Montreal police show the number of hate crimes has been rising significantly since May 2013, when the Charter was introduced.
By May 2015, hate crimes in the province had increased by 47 per cent. In Montreal, they had increased by 39 per cent.
Montreal police Commander Carolyn Cournoyer, responsible for the hate crimes and incidents unit established in May, points out that this increase may reflect Montrealers’ greater awareness of hate crimes, and greater trust in police to do something about them, rather than a huge spike in incidents.
“With more media attention paid to these kinds of crimes, people want to denounce them and get police to intervene,” Cournoyer said. “In 2017, we’ll be able to see whether there is more reporting or whether international events are really having an impact here.”
Muslim groups, however, have said these crimes are still under-reported.
Perry said the Sûreté du Québec has also been more proactive in dealing with far-right extremists, and encouraging the Muslim community to report more incidents.
“The SQ were among the most forthcoming and in tune to the idea that there was a right-wing extremist threat in the country and in Quebec,” Perry said. “They are more likely to be proactive and take it seriously when it occurs.”
But she also pointed out that hate crimes — including the vandalism of places of worship or attacks on veiled women on public transit, for example — are often perpetrated by individuals, not groups.
That’s what can make far-right extremism so unpredictable, and hence worrisome, she said.
“You don’t know when it’s coming or where it’s coming from,” Perry said. “That’s what we hear from the communities most often targeted. Many live in constant fear. And in communities where there’s an awareness of hate group activity — in Montreal or London, Ont. or Calgary, people are even more fearful.”
Gallant, who is now based in Kamloops, B.C., and is involved in anti-radicalization efforts, says another factor that may explain the increase in hate crimes is how “normal” the ideology has become.
It was normal for him, growing up in Alberta. There is still Canadian legislation in force — like the Indian Act, for example — that is reflective of white supremacist ideology, he says.
“In retrospect, I understand a lot of people believe all sorts of crazy things. That’s not necessarily abnormal. That’s real. What’s abnormal is the propensity for violence,” said Gallant who spent a decade with Neo-Nazi groups before an adoptive grandmother helped him change his ways. “I feel shame about what I fell into. But I don’t think I would have if it wasn’t so normal.”
The rise of the so-called “alt-right” in the U.S. — which has toned down the symbols and rhetoric of white supremacy to make it more mainstream, is also making it more appealing in Canada, he says.
The Soldiers of Odin, for example — founded in Finland with the express motive of creating fear in the Muslim community — have set up at least 12 new chapters in Western Canada in the last eight months, Gallant said. The Quebec chapter, les Soldats d’Odin, were among several anti-immigrant groups who marched in Quebec City last month.
“They are garnering huge public support by watering down the message and casting a wide net to allow as many people as possible into the organization.”
“The far right has gained a foothold in the public discourse, and now attacks the opposition as being politically correct “keyboard warriors” against freedom of expression … We’re creating a situation of normalizing it further and it will birth a whole new generation of the violent right wing.”
Countering far-right extremism
Gallant, who has a master’s in social work and is now finishing his law degree, says Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, repealed by the Harper government in 2013 in the name of freedom of expression, should be re-enacted.
Known as the hate speech provision, it allowed complaints to the federal Human Rights Commission for “the communication of hate messages by telephone or on the Internet.”
Victims could seek compensation through Section 13, but the provision also helped sideline neo-Nazis from the Internet, given the risk of having to pay compensation or end up in court.
The Federal Appeal Court found Section 13 to be constitutional, six months after it was repealed. In Quebec, an attempt to enact hate speech legislation last year also fizzled because of concerns for freedom of expression.
Gallant and Perry also want to see federal and provincial governments place more emphasis on terrorism of all kinds — jihadist and ultra right-wing.
Gallant was a witness in the trial of Peter Anthony Houston, who was convicted of planting a bomb in a First Nations reserve in B.C., but never charged with terrorism.
“If you’re not from the mainstream culture you’re a terrorist, but if you’re white it’s OK,” Gallant said. “So we have white privilege even for terrorism.”
Perry brought up the case of Justin Bourque, who in 2014, following his own anti-government ideology, killed three RCMP officers in Moncton, New Brunswick, sparking a two-day manhunt.
“They said it was terror but he wasn’t a terrorist,” Perry said. “The RCMP and CSIS think people like Bourque are not a threat to National Security,” Perry said. “But what stronger emblem of Canada is there than the RCMP?”
The reality is that law enforcement is not paying enough attention to this kind of threat, she says, even if there are far more incidents of right-wing extremism than Islamist extremism in Canada.
A study of the terrorism and extremism incident database, maintained by the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security, and Society, calculated that five people had been killed in 49 white supremacist incidents in Canada between 2001 and 2015, at least seven of them in Quebec.
“One officer told us ‘we know they’re here but until something happens we won’t do anything,’ ” Perry said. “They’re waiting for someone to be hurt or a mosque to be burned down.”
In the meantime, Gallant, through a non-profit group he started called Exit Canada, is doing prevention work with families, and trying to de-radicalize individuals, as is done with those at risk of joining Islamist groups.
More of that needs to be done, he says, off-line and online, especially as the alt-right in the U.S. and Canada has gained new legitimacy with Trump’s victory.
Perry and Scrivens’ study now seems prescient: “In a word, hate is increasingly “mainstream,” and thus increasingly legitimate,” they wrote. “In part, this has been accomplished by toning down the rhetoric, and doing away with the white robes and brown shirts. But it has also been accomplished by forging links with the ultimate authority: the state.”
Incidents of right-wing extremism in Quebec, 2000 to 2010
(adapted from Barbara Perry and Ryan Scrivens’ 2016 study Right Wing Extremism in Canada)
2000, Montreal, Qc: Neo-Nazi Sacha Montreuil beat Christian Thomas, 39, to death and was convicted of second degree murder. Adam Guerbuez was also arrested and charged with assault but was acquitted by a jury. ”
2000, Chatham, QC: Two boys murdered 15-year old Aylin Otano-Garcia. The two classmates were charged with first-degree murder after they lured Otano-Garcia to a secluded sandpit and bludgeoned her to death. One of the boys responsible for planning the murder was fascinated by Adolf Hitler, claiming that he murdered the girl because he did not like immigrants.
2001, Montreal, QC: Neo-Nazi Steve Legault pleaded guilt to attacking an anti-racist at a courthouse during proceedings against his friend, who was facing charges for the beating death of Christian Thomas. Legault also attempted to attack an anti-racist in a separate case outside the Montreal courthouse in 1998.
2002, Montreal, QC: Evens Marseille, a 26-year-old Haitian man, was beaten and stabbed by two neo-Nazis outside of a bar. Daniel Laverdière and Remi Chabot-Brideault were responsible for the attack. Laverdière was on probation for mischief during the time of the incident, and was described in court as a “hard-core neo-Nazi extremist.” He was also a member of the Vinland Front Skinheads, whose members came to the trial to support him. Laverdiere was sentenced to four years for aggravated assault, and was ordered by the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal to pay Marseille $35,000 in moral damages and $10,000 in punitive damages. Chabot-Brideault was given a one-year conditional sentence, which was served at home, and he was forbidden from associating with “skinheads” for three years.
2003, Montreal, QC: Jean-Sébastian Pressault, a notorious white supremacist, was arrested and charged in 2003 with wilfully promoting hatred through a racist website that he built and managed. While on bail, he threatened to kill the judge who was presiding over his case if he was given an exemplary sentence. Police searched Pressault’s home and discovered a loaded gun, and he was charged with threatening the judge and procuring a firearm.
2006, Île Perrot, QC: 18-year-old Renaud Emard, known as “necro99” on Stormfront, was arrested on weapons charges after being investigated for making racist threats on the Internet and posting pictures of himself posing with guns. After police raided his home, 20 firearms and other weapons were uncovered. Hate literature, an ethnic cleansing manual, and a hit list featuring the names of schoolmates were also discovered. Emard pleaded guilty to possession of a prohibited weapon and five counts of careless storage of firearms.
2008, Montreal, QC: Neo-Nazi Julien-Alexandre LeClerc, 20, and a male youth attacked several people in a series of racially motivated assaults. Initially, a group of seven young Arab men were confronted by the pair, in which racial insults were directed at them. Two Arab men were then stabbed, and one required multiple blood transfusions and 50 stitches in his head. The perpetrators fled in a cab, and hurled racist slurs at the Haitian cab driver. They also punched him, and smashed his windshield. They later attacked a second cab driver who was of Arab origin. Both LeClerc and the minor were sentenced to two years in closed custody for aggravated assault, assault and possession of a weapon for the purpose of dangerous to public peace.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report listed Adam Guerbuez as one of three people responsible for beating Christian Thomas to death in 2000. In fact, Guerbuez was arrested and charged with assault causing bodily harm, but was acquitted by a jury.