As we reported previously, following a dubious December 12th story on TVA news about women being removed from a work site in Côte des Neiges allegedly due to requests from a nearby mosque, the Islamophobic far right in Quebec mobilized. Just as quickly as the wave of racism crested, however, the initial story collapsed, as it became clear that either the journalist had made the whole thing up, or she had been duped by Islamophobes without doing any factchecking herself. In an anemic and half-assed statement made during the 10pm news on December 14th, the TVA reporter blamed the confusion on an « imbroglio between the people concerned », neither apologizing nor taking any responsibility at all for this epic fiasco. It was only at the noontime news on December 15th – that is to say, three days after the initial news report – that TVA finally retracted the story and apologized, all the while still not acknowledging the extremenly toxic effect that this massive howler had had on the social climate.
Initially, far right women, with the backing of La Meute and Storm Alliance, had called for a demonstration in front of the Ahl-Ill Bait mosque, with the avowed goal of disturbing the Friday prayers, as others on facebook spread memes calling for mosques to be firebombed, and far rightists like Isabelle Lavigne made threatening videos explaining how one could get the home addresses of the mosque’s executive. Outside of the right, the ASTRQ union, which represents the workers who were allegedly reassigned to other areas, clumsily called for a demonstration on twitter, a call they canceled within 24 hours as it became clear that things were not as TVA had presented them. Whether taken aback by the speed of events, or perhaps due to their own preconceptions, even “progressive” political figures were caught flatfooted. Montreal’s new mayor Valérie Plante issued a noncommittal call for “calm”, while Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, Québec Solidaire’s slick posterboy, clearly bought the story, joining the far right chorus in condemning the supposed exclusion of the workers (which had not happened):
At the same time, Catherine Fournier of the PQ not only shared the news on social media, but also expounded on the subject at length in an interview with Mario Dumont.
Despite TVA having retracted the story by that morning, roughly 20 people showed up to demonstrate outside of the Ahl-Ill Bait mosque Friday afternoon – a far cry from the hundreds who had signaled they would attend on social media. This was not only a measure of how unreliable intentions to attend a facebook event can be; La Meute had issued a statement on the Thursday pulling out of the mobilization, noting that the initial TVA story did not seem to be holding up (even though Sylvain Brouillette still insisted having « the deep belief that it is true. »). The group – often referred to as Quebec’s largest Islamophobic far right organization – would on Friday issue a statement clearly admitting that the according to its own “investigation” the TVA story was untrue. (You know mainstream media’s racism is trash when even far right groups that march alongside outright neonazis say their concocted anti-Muslim stories are not credible.)
The official retraction by La Meute did not stop some of its members from participating in the rally, including one Michel Meunier from Clan 06 (aka Mickey Mike; also associated with Storm Alliance, and a good friend with neonazi René Blaireau, who has previously been discussed here), who published on his facebook account one of the most disgusting statuses we have had the misfortune to come across in 2017. In a clear reference to the massacre at the Sainte-Foy mosque last January 29th, Meunier stated that he hoped « with all his heart that [Muslims] will start the New Year the same way that you did last year! » This status has since been removed.
Dave Tregget of Storm Alliance took a much more opportunist, and wishy washy, position, claiming on Thursday that the initial TVA story was true, yet asking Storm Alliance members not to show up wearing any identifying insignia, as the demonstration was a “trap” to make Quebecois look racist.
As such, the only self-avowed organization (if one wants to call it that) to show up was Georges Hallak, representing his (one-person) Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens, although members of other groups, including the Northern Guard and Soldiers of Odin and Storm Alliance, were also identified.
Like most things, this sad incident of vicious Islamophobia can be viewed both in concrete terms (which raises some interesting questions) and in as part of a broader context including other social factors and forces.
On the concrete level, we still want to know what was behind this story. We are encouraged by news that there may be a lawsuit against TVA, not only because it’s about time the Quebecor media conglomerate (one of the principal sources of racism in Canada) was taken to task for its poisonous propaganda, but also because it might shed some light on how this came about. So far all evidence seems to point to Mark-Alexandre Perreault of MAP-Signalisation (which actually employs the women in question) being at the origin of the story; furthermore, screenshots show that Perreault was not some disinterested party, but was already racist towards Muslims and apt to frame this in terms all too familiar to us:
While the evidence currently points towards Perreault, it may also be worth mentioning a claim by Stéphane Gagné, a white supremacist and self-styled “Quebec Confederate” from Trois Rivières. Gagné, who is close to both Storm Alliance and the small Quebec Threeper milieu, is well-known for his online videos, many of which overflow with racism. At the same time, he is clearly not the sharpest tool in the shed. In a video produced on December 14, Gagné accuses La Meute of being full of traitors who have sold out to Muslims. The reason for this accusation? That apparently two people from G-Tek are known to be in or close to La Meute, and according to Gagné, this means La Meute members were involved in having women excluded from a work site on behalf of Muslims. (We warned you he was not the sharpest tool in the shed.) Given that everyone now knows that the story of Muslims having women excluded from the work site was untrue, the actual significance of La Meute members at G-Tek becomes all the more interesting.
Then again, this all could just be another example of Gagné rambling – he is far from a credible source… However this would reinforce the possibility put forth on the website on jase – which publishes des contributions from citizens who want to promote openness and diversity in Quebec, and who are concerned about the rise of intolerance and the far right – which concludes its own investgation based on internal communications of the La Meute secret facebook group, that there are grounds to wonder whether or not this whole story might not be a setup by a member of La Meute or somebody close to the organization, in order to promote the political agenda of stigmatizing of Muslims.
On the larger scale, the how and why of this story becomes less important. Because, after all, we’re not dealing with just one story. TVA and various similar media, not to mention politicians and other public figures, have spent years building up Islamophobia in Quebec, and stories like this are actually a dime a dozen. This has been a dynamic fed from both above and below – but mainly, we have to say, from above.
This racist spiral reached a horrific waystation almost one year ago, when Alexandre Bissonnette entered the Islamic Cultural Centre in Ste-Foy and opened fire, injuring nineteen people and killing six. Rather than retreat in shame, the grassroots Islamophobic right viewed the mosque massacre as a challenge, and promptly set about mobilizing more aggressively. In 2017, for the first time in decades, the far right repeatedly took to the streets, sometimes even outnumbering antifascist forces. The very mosque where Bissonnette had carried out his murders was once again targeted with hate literature and violence. Politicians in Quebec repeatedly echoed Donald Trump’s claim that antifascists are as bad (or worse!) than fascists, only without the liberal backlash that followed the American president’s statements. In October, the governing Liberals offered a clear olive branch to the far right, when in the same week they canceled a planned Public Commission Against Systemic Racism and passed a new Islamophobic law, Bill 62, which would ban people wearing any kind of face covering from receiving or offering public services.
The fight against Islamophobia in Quebec has become a cornerstone of the broader fight against racism and the far right. Muslims have been designated the number one scapegoat by important sections of the establishment, just as they have been designated the number one target by almost all grassroots racist forces.
As such, we are calling on everyone who opposes racism, scapegoating, and the rise of the right, to join us in a demonstration against TVA, clearly the main culprit in this latest Islamophobic outrage.
Now is the time!