Anti-immigrant groups rallied along the Canadian side of the U.S. border and in Ottawa on Saturday, with counter-protesters also making their presence known, as concerns heighten over the issue of irregular border crossings by asylum seekers.
On Parliament Hill Saturday, protesters aligned with a group called the Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens (CCCC) assembled to stand against policies of the federal Liberal government they claim have allowed illegal immigration to flourish. Amid cries of "Fascist scum go away," a lone member of the group was involved in a skirmish with members of the anti-facist — or antifa — movement, before being led away by parliamentary police.
Meanwhile, roughly 300 members of the Storm Alliance — a group that identifies as "ultranationalist," and claims to eschew ties to far-right white nationalists — arrived at a border crossing near St-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec, where thousands of migrants have crossed into the country on foot without proper documentation.
La Meute, French for "The Wolf Pack," another anti-immigrant, anti-Islam group, was also on hand at the border town Saturday.
Bus loads of hundreds of antifa counter protesters, from the group Solidarity Across Borders, left Montreal early Saturday to confront those associated with Storm Alliance and La Meute at the border.
Members of the provincial police, Sûreté du Québec, formed a perimeter to keep the two forces roughly 40 metres apart.
The police, decked out in tactical gear, with gas masks, and heavy weaponry, blocked members of the Storm Alliance from marching closer to makeshift tents built by the federal government to temporarily house refugees, many of who hail from Haiti.
Georges Hallak, the founder of the CCCC and himself an immigrant from Lebanon, was at the Ottawa protest. He told CBC News he is concerned Muslims will impose Shariah — the Islamic religious guidelines that govern everything from personal hygiene and charity to pilgrimages and burials — on Canada.
Hallak, a self-described Christian patriot, said he is steadfastly opposed to M-103, a non-binding, Liberal-sponsored motion that passed the House of Commons in the spring, which condemned Islamophobia. Hallak fears its passage will limit free speech and criticism of Islam.
He also said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has failed to secure the Canada-U.S. border while allowing mayors to declare cities sanctuaries, which he said shield undocumented migrants from law enforcement.
"I respect immigration 100 per cent, as long as the people coming to this country do not have criminal records, do not pose a threat to normal Canadians, that they come here with the intent to follow the laws of Canada without trying to modify [it] for their needs — we're talking about Shariah law, which goes against the Constitution of Canada," he said.
The group was vastly outnumbered by a group of counter-protesters aligned with the antifa movement, people who claim to support migrants and oppose racism. Many of them held placards with slogans such as "No to hate speech," and "Unite to fight right."
An organizer with Ottawa Against Fascism, who would only identify himself as Robin for fear of online reprisal from the far-right, said these groups are "sugarcoating" the anti-immigrant movement by insisting their actions are not racially motivated.
"These groups are scary, they mask their anti-immigrant [sentiments] but underneath all of that they support genocide ... These forms of scapegoating can escalate and become something that is genuinely dangerous."
According to federal officials, some 13,000 asylum seekers have entered Canada irregularly, with many of those people crossing over from New York State into Quebec at a single point of entry at the end of Roxham Rd. in Hemmingford, Que., not far from Lacolle.
Approximately 5,550 asylum seekers crossed through Quebec in August alone, but numbers dropped dramatically in September.
Storm Alliance was created by people formerly aligned with the Soldiers of Odin, a group founded in Finland by a known neo-Nazi, which is highly critical of Islam and the tenets of Shariah. Dave Tregget, the founder and leader of Storm Alliance, has said he left Soldiers of Odin because of its overt racism.
Unlike Storm Alliance, many members of La Meute are Quebec sovereigntists, but they too are fearful Muslims will demand the imposition of Shariah in Canada. Some of its supporters were seen flying the Patriotes flag, an ode to the Lower Canada rebellions of 1837-38 when French-speaking settlers from present-day Quebec fought against British colonial rule.
In August, a protest in Quebec City turned violent after antifa protesters attacked a man with alleged ties to La Meute. He was seen carrying the patriote flag, alongside the provincial fleurs-de-lys.
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