Quebec City is bracing for a clash this weekend as far-right and anti-fascist groups go head to head over their views on secularism and racism.
Members of controversial right-wing organizations such as La Meute and Storm Alliance announced intentions to protest two months ago when Quebec's Liberal government released plans to hold an inquiry on systemic racism and discrimination in the sectors of employment, health, education, social services and housing. The inquiry, they argued at the time, amounted to putting Quebecers on trial.
Quebec's immigration minister has since cancelled those inquiry hearings and replaced them with a “forum validating diversity and the fight against discrimination,” which will take place on Dec. 5 in Quebec City. But the far-right groups still have a bone to pick with the government of Premier Philippe Couillard, whom they believe is treating the Quebec's people with contempt. They argue that the province should go further in its legislation banning face-coverings to protect secularism as well as do more to control what they describe as "illegal immigration" in Quebec.
The protests coincide with the Quebec Liberal Party convention ahead of next year's provincial elections.
"Never again will Quebec be controlled by religions, there is no turning back," wrote one of the leaders La Meute, Sylvain Maikan, on Facebook on Friday, in a French language post that was shared more than 100 times. "No more society controlled by religion. No more religious groups that treat women as inferior beings. No more political leaders who despise their people."
According to its Facebook event, the anti-fascist group CO25 is planning on responding to the demonstration by holding a gathering close to the march to “let (these groups) know they’re not welcome in Quebec City”.
After a similar demonstration between far-right and leftist groups turned violent in August, some Quebec City residents are concerned the protest and counter-protest will get out of hand again this weekend. La Meute has said in its Facebook posts it plans on attracting a thousand members from different cities in the province and has chartered buses to bring people to the demonstration.
Police have been preparing for weeks
Pressed recently by a citizen who had concerns about "several buses from Montreal," on Monday, Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume said he had confidence that Quebec City’s police could handle the situation.
“We can plan the unpredictable but we trust Quebec City’s police. I am convinced they will do their job well, in conditions that are always extremely difficult,” he said, according to a QMI report.
Quebec Public Safety Minister Martin Coiteux told the Quebec City newspaper Le Soleil on Thursday that protesters have the right to voice their opinions, but must respect the rights "of others, of properties, people and in public calm."
André Turcotte, inspector at the Quebec City police told National Observer that the police force had been planning and preparing for several weeks and had the capacity to manage these types of heated encounters. The police have also been in touch with organizers on both sides of the demonstration, and pledged to keep the city's citizens informed via Twitter.
“It’s clear that it’s not agreeable to be living at the moment with the risk that some might come to create a mess, but is it a risk for us? Not necessarily, because we’ll be deploying effective and strategies in consequence,” he said on Friday afternoon.
Turcotte said about 300 demonstrations unfold in Quebec City each year but last August’s demonstration’s violence was a surprise. The event, organized by La Meute, went awry when anti-fascist counter-protesters started clashing with the riot police. Those protesters threw chairs, bricks and fireworks at the police, set a trash bin on fire, attacked journalists and ended with hospital trips for six of the demonstrators. Three police officers were hurt by a "chemical irritant," and the force eventually declared that the demonstration was illegal.
“In 99 per cent of cases, (demonstrations) unfold in calm," said the inspector. "It had been a long time since we’d seen a demonstration with this level of violence, this level of aggressiveness.”
The day after the violent demonstration in August, Labeaume had expressed his disappointment with both extreme-right and anti-fascist groups.
“We don’t want to see you in Quebec City. You cost us a lot. You undermine the city’s reputation especially in a year where we put so much efforts selling our city on the touristic level,” Labeaume said on Aug. 21