QUEBEC — Despite efforts from anti-fascist protesters to shut them down, a far-right group called La Meute said its planned demonstration in Quebec City on Sunday was "a success."
The group was protesting the policies of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Philippe Couillard "in the face of the scourge of illegal immigration." It calls for stronger border control in light of the recent increase in asylum seekers crossing the Canadian border from the United States.
Since July 1, nearly 6,800 people have streamed across the border from the U.S. into Quebec at an unofficial crossing to claim asylum. By comparison, only 2,920 claims were filed in Quebec in all of 2015.
The group considers itself nationalist, not racist.
Some of La Meute's members – about 200 of them – waited about five hours inside a parking garage behind the National Assembly for counter-protesters to disperse outside before engaging in a silent march.
Quebec City police said Sunday evening that one person had been arrested and three police officers that had to be treated after being exposed to a chemical irritant launched by protesters. They said La Meute's protest was orderly and lawful.
The events happened just one week after a white supremacist protest erupted in violence that injured several people and took a woman's life in Charlottesville, Va.
Several politicians condemned La Meute's intentions, including Quebec City mayoral candidates and Couillard.
Trudeau condemned the "intolerant, racist demonstrations." He said he stood with millions of Canadians "who reject the hateful, harmful, heinous ideologies" that have sprouted across the country.
"The small minority, angry, frustrated group of racists don't get to define who we are as a country, don't get to tell others who we are and don't get to change the nature of the open, accepting values that make us who we are," Trudeau said hours before the demonstration.
Couillard and public security minister Martin Coiteux also condemned violence in posts on Twitter.
About 300 counter-protesters, organized by a group called Action citoyenne contre la discrimination, and including groups like the Ligue anti-fasciste anti-raciste Quebec and ANTIFA, gathered outside the parking garage entrance on Louis-Alexandre-Taschereau St.
As some La Meute members came into the parking garage, they were met with confrontation from the counter-protesters. One woman had a bottle of water dumped on her.
"Let's block out hate and racism," one protester shouted out.
They chanted slogans like "No one likes racists," and "anti, anti, anti fascist." Many of them covered their faces with bandanas and wore sunglasses.
Some of the counter-protesters began throwing bricks at a man named Eric Roy, who was carrying a Patriotes and a Quebec flag. When Roy turned around to confront them, he was tackled to the ground and hit his head on a pole. It is unclear whether he sympathized with either side.
After some anti-fascist demonstrators aimed at least three smoking flares at a line of officers — one of which hit an officer's helmet — Quebec City police announced that the protest had been deemed illegal. Counter-protesters dispersed after throwing fireworks and a flare at police.
A dumpster on wheels was set on fire and pushed towards a police line on d'Artigny St. Glass bottles and plastic chairs were smashed on the floor.
Masked anti-fascists also targeted the media. Three photographers were intimidated by counter-protesters while trying to take a photo of the smoking dumpster. A Global News cameraman said his camera was taken and thrown to the ground, damaging it.
Montreal-based activist and counter-protester Jaggi Singh was arrested by Quebec police outside the parking garage, reportedly for stepping behind the police line. The counter-protesters grew agitated and moved toward police, who released a dispersive gas and pepper-sprayed many counter-protesters. They then forcibly removed the counter-protesters.
Meanwhile, La Meute leader Patrick Beaudry was in the parking garage, telling his group to remain calm and not to respond to provocation. The police brought La Meute members water while they waited for the counter protests to die down.
"We are La Meute. We will not scream at them," he said.
Despite the group's allegations that they are not racist, they have a strong stance against extreme Islam, and some of its members were instrumental in having the project for a Muslim cemetery in St-Apollinaire rejected. Anti-Islamic comments are common on its private Facebook page, including comments equating Allah with Satan.
"We think it's irresponsible to tell immigrants 'come here, we'll take you,'" said La Meute spokesperson Sylvain Brouillette. He argued that asylum seekers crossing the Canada-United States border are doing so illegally.
He added that allegations the group is racist are purely speculative and concocted by the media.
At least one of La Meute's members – Shawn Beauvais-MacDonald – was spotted in VICE coverage of the Charlottesville demonstrations, but Brouillette said that person was there to support Donald Trump, and not white supremacy.
He has since been "suspended" from La Meute, Brouillette said.
"We are an inclusive group. There are people of all races in La Meute," Brouillette said. "We're representative of the Canadian population."
The protest in Charlottesville put a damper on this event, which he does not compare, he said.
"(White supremacists and La Meute) are two different groups," he said. "(Charlottesville) was anti-Trumps versus pro-Trumps.
"We have a group that's non-violent, hoping that the other group will remain non-violent too," he said before the counter protests.
Around 6 p.m., its members finally had the chance to move without being intercepted. They marched silently to the nearby Jardins du parlement park.
La Meute marched silently through Old Quebec City, protected by its own security force and Quebec police and brandishing signs that read "No to illegal immigration," and "No to Trudeau and Couillard."