For the second time in seven months, I’m sitting here in front of my screen, downhearted, thinking, “REALLY, Quebec City? REALLY?”
Reports of “a left-wing protest” that disrupted traffic and sent flares, glass bottles, chairs and ink bombs flying through a Québec City street yesterday are not entirely accurate. There were actually multiple protests.
THE PROTEST: La Meute, a far-right group that believes refugee and asylum seeker admissions are “a trojan horse”, planned a silent march against immigration. The police and their own people kept them holed up in an indoor parking garage for five hours to avoid a full-on confrontation with counter-protesters, a move which eventually, and it pains me deeply to say it, allowed them to come out looking stronger. There are some hard-core neo-Nazis in that group, and also some people who are sadly misinformed about what a refugee or refugee claimant is, or who have been manipulated into blaming their own “economic anxiety” on refugee claimants and “other people.” There were children at that rally– children growing up in xenophobic homes– which I find really quite scary.
THE COUNTER-PROTEST: About 500 Quebecers, including families with children, left and centre-left politicians, religious leaders, a marching band, a woman in a fairy costume, and elderly people, waving signs like “Love Trumps Hate”, “Bienvenue aux réfugiés” and “Ils sont humains” (They’re human beings). Organized by a small group of people who acknowledged that they couldn’t control everyone in the crowd, and who seemed out of their depth almost from the beginning.
THE COUNTER-COUNTER-PROTEST: Handfuls of right-wing sympathizers engaging the pro-refugee marchers in discussions (or arguments). Some were drunk and disorderly or otherwise unhinged, yelling about “fake news” and “crazy Marxists,” others tried to engage people with economic or legal arguments (largely inaccurate, but I’ve written extensively about that in the past and I’ll get to that in a near future post).
THE COUNTER-COUNTER-COUNTER-PROTEST: This, sadly, is the one everyone heard about. A few dozen people of undetermined political affiliation who just wanted to make trouble worked their way to the front of the crowd and began throwing flares, ink bombs, glass bottles and other weapons at police, assaulting media and scaring the crap out of other protesters. At this point, the initial counter-protest was declared illegal. The troublemakers were masked. Some of them were antifa hard-liners using the protest as a springboard to advance their own vendetta against the police (Have the police gone too far in past protests? Oh yes they have. However, maybe I’m naive, but I question the relevance of carrying on that vendetta in the middle of a protest that is intended to show opposition to racism and solidarity with vulnerable people. I find it incredibly selfish). Some of the people wearing black actually seem to have been part of…
THE COUNTER-COUNTER-COUNTER-COUNTER PROTEST: Neo-Nazi hardliners who appear to have infiltrated the antifa lines to cause more damage and discredit the entire left. There were not very many of these unsavoury characters — there were only about two dozen black-clad people who threw things, as far as I could see.
A sad state of affairs. Now, I’m a total Pollyanna, but I do wish we could all just get along, and agree that refugees are human beings entitled to a fair hearing and a basic package of rights. Instead of talking about why tolerance is important and why refugees do deserve a fair hearing, now everyone who has not yet decided where they stand will be saying “Ohmygod did you see that riot?!” Pas fort, pas fort. Please read this if you want to understand why I don’t consider that “punching Nazis” is the best response.
I was there and I stand by my words until proof of the contrary. I feel like I have been yelling for two days, and I would rather agree to disagree than get into another argument. I’m sad about how deep the divisions in Quebec City are, and I think it’s deeply disturbing that La Meute, the people who deepen those divisions and wantonly libel people who don’t look like them, came out of this looking organized and dignified. My only consolation is that it didn’t happen at the Stade Olympique, so asylum seekers themselves didn’t have to see it.