In Polite, Tolerant Canada, the Far Right Is Gaining Ground Ahead of Monday’s Election

These groups are not about to sweep to victory just yet, but the official registration of one fringe party has emboldened others and allowed them to inject alarming rhetoric into public debate

Michael Colborne
Michael Colborne
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A billboard featuring the portrait of People’s Party of Canada (PPC) leader Maxime Bernier and its message "Say No to Mass Immigration" in Toronto, August 26, 2019.
A billboard featuring the portrait of People’s Party of Canada (PPC) leader Maxime Bernier and its message "Say No to Mass Immigration" in Toronto, August 26, 2019. Credit: \ Moe Doiron/ REUTERS
Michael Colborne
Michael Colborne

HALIFAX, Canada — “Beware The Parasitic Tribe,” the video from June 2019 is called. “Everywhere these people go, they infiltrate the media, they hijack the central bank, and they infect the body politic like a parasite,” says the 28-year-old leader of the Canadian Nationalist Party to camera. “What we need to do, perhaps more than anything, is remove these people, once and for all, from our country.”

It’s not hard to tell who he is talking about. The video is the shaky work of a party so fringe that it is only running three candidates for Canada’s 338 seats in Monday's parliamentary election. But because it garnered the requisite number of signatures, it has been officially registered with the country’s election authority (Elections Canada), which means any Canadian can donate money to this thinly disguised anti-Semitic party and get an income tax deduction.

As Election Day approaches, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party is facing a tough reelection fight. (In Canada, the leader of the largest party almost always becomes the premier). Trudeau has faced controversy over a number of gaffes, missteps and other embarrassments — from a corruption scandal involving corporate giant SNC-Lavalin to news that he wore blackface more than once when he was younger, including as a 29-year-old teacher. Poll projections show his Liberals and the rival Conservative Party, under the leadership of Andrew Scheer, neck-and-neck. Scheer took the party’s reins two years ago from former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who lost the 2015 election to Trudeau.

Liberal supporters hold photographs of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ahead of an election debate in Gatineau, Quebec, October 10, 2019.Credit: STEPHANE MAHE/REUTERS

The likeliest outcome Monday is a minority government led by either the Liberals or Conservatives, meaning that whoever wins will only be able to govern with the support of smaller parties like the left-wing New Democratic Party or the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

Canada’s far-right — from fringe outfits like the Canadian National Party to the new People’s Party of Canada, a project of former Conservative cabinet minister Maxime Bernier — aren’t anywhere near taking power or even getting into the parliament. But the rise of these and other movements is part of what experts and observers warn is an advancing far right in Canada — a country often portrayed abroad as a haven of tolerance in an increasingly regressive world.

There is some truth to this: Canada has been lauded for taking in tens of thousands of Syrians in recent years, and more refugees were resettled here in 2018 than in the United States, which has ten times the population.

But Canada is hardly a hatred-free zone. In January 2017, a gunman who held far-right views shot and killed six people at a mosque in Quebec City, telling police afterward he was worried about the threat of refugees. One survey released in May showed more than a quarter of Canadians believe it has become “more acceptable” over the past five years to be prejudiced against Muslims.

Rebel Media, run by right-wing firebrand Ezra Levant, remains a popular voice of the far right at home and abroad. It’s known for its harsh anti-Islamic rhetoric and once employed English far-right extremist Tommy Robinson as a contributor. And while the number of officially reported hate crimes in Canada dropped in 2018, the number is still much higher than in 2016 thanks to a considerable increase in hate crimes reported in 2017, particularly against Muslims. Officially reported hate crimes against Jews in 2018 were almost double the 2015 figure.

Canadian Conservative candidate Andrew Scheer campaigns in Quebec City, October 15, 2019.Credit: CARLOS OSORIO/REUTERS

It shouldn’t be a surprise that far-right groups have been able to find fertile soil in Canada. According to Barbara Perry, an expert on far-right extremism in the country, the number of far-right groups in Canada has exploded since 2015. Back then, Perry and her colleagues estimated that there were approximately 100 such groups in the country. Four years later, she believes that number has tripled.

“I don’t think even we saw it coming, this emergence, this resurgence of the far right in Canada,” says Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism. But it’s not just about the numbers, she warns. “These groups are qualitatively different. They’re more visible, they’re more active and they’re not just online.” Perry notes that far-right groups are more visible at rallies and events now than in years past.

The ‘parasitic tribe’

One of them is the Canadian Nationalist Party. After party leader and founder Travis Patron’s “parasitic tribe” video, Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police opened a hate crime investigation into the group.

At the time, Patron denied he was talking about Jews. “We refer to them simply as the globalists because they conduct their business everywhere while simultaneously calling no place in particular home,” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “We would remove [them] from our country. We have no use for them.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walks along the river on a campaign visit to Windsor, Ontario, October 14, 2019.Credit: STEPHANE MAHE/REUTERS

But neo-Nazis knew who he was talking about. On the white supremacist website Stormfront — often called the internet’s first hate site — one user praised the video because “he [Patron] named the Jew” in the clip. Another poster even claimed that Patron himself used to post on the site. (Patron did not respond to a request for comment.)

Anti-Semitic statements are extremely uncommon in Canadian elections, which is why the Canadian Nationalist Party’s overt rhetoric has stood out so sharply during the campaign. “Anti-Semitism has been a political orphan in Canada, unable to find a home in any of the major parties,” says David Ouellette from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a Canadian Jewish advocacy group.

Ouellette adds that there has not been any noticeable rise in anti-Semitic incidents during the campaign. He notes that one instance of a candidate’s signs being daubed with anti-Semitic graffiti is being dealt with by police and that “there is nothing to suggest the incident could be part of a growing trend.”

But the official registration of Patron’s party came as a shock to many. “The Canadian Nationalist Party — a party that has engaged in the most pernicious Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, white supremacist rhetoric — you can donate to it and you will get a charitable receipt,” Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and a former chief executive of the Canadian Jewish Congress, told a Canadian news outlet in August when the party’s registered status was first announced.

‘Get the hell out of Canada’

The People’s Party of Canada is a right-wing party founded by former cabinet minister Bernier after he was ejected from the Conservative Party in 2018. Bernier’s right-wing populism, especially his anti-immigrant, Islamophobic rhetoric, has been making headlines in Canada for months. Bernier has, for example, spoken in support of another group’s billboards with the slogan “Say no to mass immigration.” At one of the official debates held between party leaders earlier this month — controversially, Bernier was invited to participate — he called the other leaders “globalists.”

People's Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier takes part in election debate in Gatineau, Quebec, October 10, 2019.Credit: \ POOL/ REUTERS

Bernier’s efforts have been matched only by the questionable far-right affiliations and actions of some of the party’s (former) members and supporters. Earlier this year, the Toronto Star published a story detailing the Islamophobic and anti-Semitic statements made by several now former members of the party.

“Get the hell out of Canada. We don’t want you here, understand? I don’t give a rats ass about your stupid Islam. Go away pedophile,” the PPC’s former organizer in Ontario (Canada’s largest province) wrote on Twitter. A member of a PPC local party organization posted an article about German history on an alt-right Facebook group with the comment, “I hope those are tears of Jews.”

There have been a myriad of other incidents involving Bernier and PPC party supporters flirting with the farthest far-right fringes. In September, it was revealed that one of the PPC’s signatories to officially register the party with Elections Canada was the former leader of an American neo-Nazi group, while others had ties to different far-right groups. This month it came to light that a man who claims to work security for Bernier was a founding member of the Canadian Nationalist Party. Bernier himself even posed for a photo alongside notorious Canadian neo-Nazi Paul Fromm, though he claimed not to know who he was. Episodes like this have left other PPC members frustrated, with some even claiming that anti-Semites and racists have taken over the party, resigning in protest.

A photo of Maxime Bernier, right, with his arm around notorious Canadian neo-Nazi Paul Fromm. Brenier claimed he didn't know who Fromm was.Credit: Screenshot

Bernier’s party, however, won’t fare well on Monday. As of press time, CBC’s Poll Tracker estimated the party was averaging 2.5 percent in polls and would get, at best, a single seat in Canada’s House of Commons. Still, the party’s presence, including at the official leaders’ debate, means they have been able to further inject far-right narratives into the public debate, says Perry.

But there are other groups to worry about — groups that are even more extreme and, in some cases, ready to resort to violence. Perry says she’s most concerned about groups like the Three Percenters, a far-right militia movement group with roots in the United States. The combination of the group’s focus on guns — Canada’s gun laws are more liberal than most European countries, though not nearly as much as in the United States — combined with military-style training and open xenophobia is a perfect storm for far-right extremist violence.

Others worrying Perry include the Soldiers of Odin, a far-right group with a presence in most Canadian cities, as well as PEGIDA Canada (inspired by a namesake German anti-Islamic movement), thanks to their increased visibility at rallies and their harsh Islamophobic rhetoric.

But these groups aren’t about to win legions of fans across the country. “While we are witnessing an increase in the number of far-right groups in Canada, there is no indication that Canadians are increasingly attracted to far-right ideologies,” says Ouellette. “There is nothing to suggest that such groups are anywhere close from breaking away from the outer fringes of Canadian society, or that they are in a position to receive any measure of significant support from Canadians at the polls.”

An ominous message

Regardless of what happens on October 21, some far-right extremists in Canada see sunny days ahead.

“A CNP candidate may not get elected this time, but now they are the first registered Canadian Ethno-Nationalist party in history and now another option for voters,” a user identifying himself as Kevin Goudreau wrote on Stormfront last month. They “can now receive tax deductible donations and media spots to grow the Party for the next election.” Goudreau is a veteran of Canada’s neo-Nazi scene; he has tattoos of a swastika and a shotgun on his chest.

New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh greets supporters ahead of an election debate in Gatineau, Quebec, October 10, 2019.Credit: CARLOS OSORIO/REUTERS

“You seem to forget the NSDAP [the German acronym for the National-Socialist German Workers’ Party, or the Nazi party] was around over a decade, a handful of people that met at a pub grew a party over a decade and before they got elected they only got 2% of the vote until the right circumstances propelled them to win elections,” Goudreau wrote, “and we have those circumstances now.

“We shall prevail, times are changing and are going in the right direction now, small steps before we take our nation back.”

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