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Noxious weeds: The growth of the far right in Canada and Québec

Canadian Politics

Cartoon by Michael Kountouris, Greece; Cagle Cartoons.

The Global North has been witnessing the recrudescence of the rabid right for decades now. The advancing victories at the ballot box—from the election of a neo-fascist mayor in Rome in 2008 to the capture of 94 seats in the German Bundestag by Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in 2017—are the culmination of patient groundwork. The far right revival looked to be less convincing in North America than in Europe, at least until the election of Donald Trump, which ushered Steve Bannon into the White House and turned up the heat on a simmering cauldron of right-wing extremism, from the White supremacism of the contemporary Klan to the neo- Nazism of Stormfront.

But only the willfully blind could have imagined that Canada would somehow remain impervious to the swelling scourge. Dozens of different far-right groups are now recruiting, rallying and spewing hate from coast to coast. Some of them operate across the country; others are more localized. Québec has a few of its own homegrown hate groups.

Although a fragmented and fractious lot, rightwing extremists are united in hatred. Scapegoatism is an historic constant of the far right, but their prime targets vary with time and place. Immigration is a universal lightning-rod for right-wing extremism, especially now as record numbers of refugees desperate to escape conflict and misery flee their homelands in search of a safer, better life.

Another distinctive aspect of the current incarnation of the far right, in Canada as in the US and Europe, is its propagation of a cartoon-like clash of civilizations narrative—fuelled by the events of September 11, 2001 in New York and their aftermath—in which Muslims are cast as a gangrenous threat to Canadian or Québec society. While the new-found focus on Islam does not eclipse the more traditional objects of far-right venom, like blacks and Jews, it does contribute to the intensification of Islamophobia in discourse and deed.

Hate crimes against Muslims in Canada increased by 253 per cent between 2012 and 2015, according to Statistics Canada, and this abhorrent trend has continued, as evidenced this year by the horrific mass shooting by Alexandre Bissonnette on January 29 at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Québec City which left six dead and 19 injured.

People of conscience need to confront and isolate these malign forces now before they grow, become normalized and find a foothold in mainstream politics. What form opposition should take is a matter of some debate on the Left, as we saw in the wake of Noam Chomsky’s harsh evaluation of the loose activist current known as “antifa.” But about the need to face down fascists and stem their spread there is no argument. The demonstration against racism in Montréal this November, which saw some 5,000 take to the streets to protest Islamophobia and express solidarity with racialized minorities, Indigenous peoples and newcomers was, we must hope, the dawn of a highly visible mass rejection of the politics of hate peddled by the far right and dipped into dangerously by ideologues and opportunists from the conventional Right and even the political centre. That the niqab—the face-covering veil worn by a very small number of devout Muslim women—could become a determining factor in election campaigns in a country like Canada, where Muslims make up only about three per cent of the population, should be cause for great concern about the insidious reach of racist demagoguery.

To take the measure of the scale and scope of rightwing extremism in Canada and Québec, Canadian Dimension turned to two scholars who have been monitoring the far right to provide us with an overview of this disturbing phenomenon. Our interview with Barbara Perry, a leading specialist on hate crime at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, offers a grim panorama of the far-right groups operating across the country, while the article by CEGEP teacher Xavier Camus concentrates on the specificities of right-wing extremism in Québec.

A CD editor for the last 15 years and now a coodinating editor, Andrea Levy is a Montréal-based historian, translator, journalist and activist.

This article appeared in the Autumn-Winter 2017 issue of Canadian Dimension (The ‘Sharing Economy’).


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