Nothing as dramatic as the August 2017 “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, Virginia has occurred in Canada recently. But, right wing extremism is still very much a looming presence in the country. Hate crimes against minority groups, particularly Canadian Muslims, have been increasing. The steady formation of right-wing organizations, some militant and white nationalist in character, has also been documented by experts and Canadian authorities.
The phenomenon has led to several high-profile incidents this year. The Quebéc City mosque, attacked by a gunman in January 2017 (leaving six Muslim Canadians dead), has since been threatened again. The car belonging to the mosque’s president, Mohammed Labidi, was deliberately torched in August, only thirty-six hours after the city announced the sale of land to create the region’s first Muslim cemetery. Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh Canadian and leader of the federal New Democratic Party, was harassed by an aggressive heckler at a talk in Brampton, Ontario in September. The heckler accused Singh of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and seeking the implementation of ‘Shari’a Law’ in Canada.
Despite these disturbing developments, right-wing hate groups in Canada have also experienced set-backs in their organizational and mobilization efforts over the past few months. While there are several reasons for this, one of the main factors is the rejection, by average Canadians, of the racist rhetoric coming from American President Donald Trump and his administration. This has been particularly evident in the mobilizations that have taken place against far-right extremism in Canada, after the Charlottesville incident.
Charlottesville’s Impact on Canadian Activism Against the Far-Right
The white nationalist terrorist attack in Charlottesville, which left one woman dead and injured numerous other anti-racist counter-protestors, was caught on camera by Canadian far-right wing media personality, Faith Goldy. Goldy was covering the events in Charlottesville for Rebel Media, a notorious Canadian right-wing news and commentary outlet.
Mere moments before a car mowed into a crowd, taking the life of anti-racism activist, Heather Meyer, Goldy criticized the anti-racist protestors via live stream and sympathized with the far-right, stating that:
There has been a rising in, I think, white racial consciousness, after decades of identity politics which underscored non-white identities. I think a lot of white men, specifically, this seems to be their struggle — are mad as hell and they’re not gonna take it anymore.
During that same weekend, Goldy was a guest on a podcast produced by the Daily Stormer, a notorious neo-Nazi website.
Rebel Media already faced heavy criticism in Canada for its xenophobic and, at times, anti-Semitic tendencies. But, after the white supremacist rally and terrorist attack in Charlottesville, there was a noticeably stronger backlash against Rebel Media because of its sympathetic coverage of white supremacy. The blowback even prompted numerous Conservative Party politicians, many of whom had previously worked with and provided interviews to Rebel Media, to publicly disavow the outlet, including the party’s newly minted leader, Andrew Scheer.
With the post-Charlottesville fallout doing so much damage, Ezra Levant, Rebel Media’s founder, fired Goldy. The firing led to a mass exodus of Rebel contributors who sought to distance themselves from the network, including its co-founder, Brian Lilley, journalist Barbara Kay, writer John Robson, as well as a British correspondent, Coalan Robertson. Suffice to say, Rebel Media is in trouble.
The Proud Boys
Rebel Media is not the only far-right entity suffering post-Charlottesville. The Proud Boys, established in 2016 by former Rebel journalist Gavin McInnes, has also seen better days. The Proud Boys is a far-right, anti-immigration, frat-like men’s organization that proudly embraces “Western chauvinism” and “traditional” gender roles.
The Halifax chapter of the Proud Boys captured national headlines on July 1, 2017, when members disrupted an indigenous remembrance and healing ceremony that was being held in front of a public statue of Edward Cornwallis, the founder of Halifax. Cornwallis is a controversial figure, because of his role in the genocide of the indigenous Mi’kmaq people. Shortly after the Proud Boys’ disruptive action, McInnes gave an interview to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in which he unapologetically defended both the Proud Boys and Cornwallis’ record, particularly his issuing of a proclamation in 1749 to pay English settlers for Mi’kmaq scalps.
Although the Proud Boys and Gavin McInnes still have their staunch supporters, they have also been thoroughly criticized in the mainstream media over recent months. This is also a result of the post-Charlottesville blowback. Indeed, events just north of the border compelled Canadian networks to recognize and more carefully scrutinize the activities and ideologies of far-right organizations.
Worldwide Coalition Against Islam, PEGIDA, and Other Far-Right Groups Struggle
Like Rebel Media and the Proud Boys, other far right actors in Canada have encountered set-backs as of late. The Canadian chapter of Worldwide Coalition Against Islam (WCAI), a hate group active in the western provinces, has been making itself heard this past year by organizing anti-Muslim demonstrations. WCAI Canada’s Facebook account has also published overtly violent posts, including one about a refugee center in Germany that was burned down with a caption that read: ‘we should do this too’.
On May 23rd, 2017, many of WCAI’s members and supporters participated in an aggressive rally outside of a high school in Red Deer, Alberta.
The rally was prompted by misinformation spread through social media about a brawl between two groups of teenaged boys, one of which was made up of Syrian refugees. According to a now debunked rumor, school workers only disciplined the Canadian-born group of students. Ostensibly incensed by this supposed “political correctness, WCAI and other groups, mostly from out of town, showed up at the school in question and intimidated students and staff to the point where police had to be called.
Since this incident, the WCAI has come under intense criticism, with one of its two main organizers pilloried for posting neo-Nazi coded language and slogans on social media. Criticisms of WCAI intensified after the group scheduled an anti-Islam rally for August 19, 2017 in Vancouver, British Columbia. The planned protest immediately led to tension and anxiety in the west coast city, particularly since Charlottesville had happened just days before. When August 19 came around, 4,000 counter-protestors showed up, successfully stopping the rally from occurring. Seemingly undeterred, WCAI planned another rally in Winnipeg, Manitoba for September 9th, 2017. 200-500 counter-demonstrators poured into the site, but not a single WCAI member was in attendance.
A group named PEGIDA (an offshoot of a xenophobic German organization), also known as Patriots Against the Islamization of the West, attempted to hold a rally in London, Ontario on August 26, 2017. Like the WCAI in Vancouver, counter-protestors, who numbered approximately 500, overwhelmed the tiny group of thirty who had come to support the far-right group.
Also taking place a few days after Charlottesville, on August 20, 2017, La Meute (The Pack), a military, anti-immigrant organization in the province of Quebéc, assembled it supporters in Quebéc City in a symbolic show of force, with the goal of marching through the Old City. Counter-protestors assembled to protest, managing to prevent around 200 La Meute members and supporters from marching by blocking the exit to an underground parking lot. After being holed up for a few hours, La Meute members managed to march with police protection. While the group claimed the incident as a victory for their movement, La Meute has been thoroughly criticized in the Canadian political scene. In August 2017, a few days after the incidents in Charlottesville, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly described the group as an “angry, frustrated group of racists.” The premier of Quebéc, Philippe Couillard, has also been vocal in his disgust.
Several other far right organizations across Canada planned demonstrations for September 30, 2017, with similar results. In Peterborough, Ontario, only one far right supporter showed up to a planned demonstration that had generated a counter rally of about 1,000 people. In Windsor, Ontario, an attempted rally organized by a group calling itself the Storm Alliance was also overwhelmed by counter-protestors.
Weakened But Not Gone
The Canadian far-right has encountered many setbacks this past summer thanks to Charlottesville. Several militant groups have fragmented and have largely failed to garner mass appeal. Still, it would be premature to celebrate the death of right-wing extremism in Canada. Such movements are still quite potent in some parts of the country.
They also appear to be responding to Charlottesville in their own way, namely, by re-thinking their overall outreach and propaganda strategy. In the aftermath of Charlottesville, Richard Spencer, the American white nationalist who originally coined the term ‘Alt Right,’ published a call out on his website, encouraging his far-right admirers to adopt the tactic of ‘leaderless resistance;’ that is, the development of separate militant cells engaging in individual acts to advance the same cause. With such tactics being floated by American leaders of the Alt Right, it is likely Canadian white supremacists will take up the call, as well.