Content warning: violence, white supremacy, Islamophobia
Early on Wednesday March 1, several media outlets in Montreal received a bomb threat claiming to be from the “Council of Concerned Citizens of Canada,” a white supremacist organization also known as C4. The threat, delivered via email, explained that “small […] amateur explosive devices” had been placed in two buildings at Concordia University with the intent of harming Muslim students. Later that morning, McGill’s CKUT radio station received an email from the same group, which promised to “spread [their] fight to McGill too.”
So far, only one suspect, 47 year old Hisham Saadi, has been arrested in relation to the bomb threat at Concordia: he has been charged with mischief, issuing a death threat, and inciting fear of a terrorist attack.
Islamophobic bomb threat at Concordia
On Wednesday morning, several local media outlets received a threatening email purporting to be from C4. The email stated that C4’s goal was to injure Muslim students at Concordia, and began by citing the election of U.S. President Donald Trump as inspiration for the group’s violent agenda.
“Now that President Trump is in office south of the border, things have changed,” the email read. “We will not tolerate [Muslim students’] behavior anymore.” The email went on to state that a series of explosive devices would detonate once per day between March 1 at 12 p.m., and March 3 at 2 p.m..
The email stated that C4’s goal was to injure Muslim students at Concordia, and began by citing the election of U.S. President Donald Trump as inspiration for the group’s violent agenda.
While this fact was not referenced in C4’s email, this week was Islamic Awareness Week at Concordia, and the Muslim Students’ Association had set up promotional displays in the Hall building, one of the locations targeted.
After several hours of searching the targeted buildings with canine units, the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) declared them to be clear. By 6 p.m. the buildings were once again open to the public.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) issued a public statement in which they decried Islamophobia and bigotry, and called on the university administration to cancel classes and exams for the rest of this week.
“We are deeply concerned that classes are proceeding as per usual in most buildings,” read the CSU’s statement, “considering that many Muslim students, staff and faculty will not be feeling safe anywhere near campus today. Furthermore, cancelling all classes is the only way to ensure that it is not up to individual instructors to decide whether students are penalized for being made unsafe in their own school.”
“We are deeply concerned that classes are proceeding […] considering that many Muslim students, staff and faculty will not be feeling safe anywhere near campus today.”
Christine Mota, a spokesperson from Concordia, spoke to The Daily regarding the bomb threat and subsequent evacuation:
“The threat was specific to two buildings, so we only closed two,” Mota told The Daily in a phone interview, “but then we realized that there is a third [building] attached to one of them, with a passageway connecting the two, so we thought to be safe we would evacuate the third building as well.”
“We are going to increase our security over the next few days,” continued Mota. “The community needs a sense of security, and we want to make sure everyone feels comfortable.”
Shortly after the evacuation of the targeted buildings, the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) of Concordia released a public statement, calling the bomb threat “a disturbing effort to intimidate the campus population, and in particular, to target Concordia’s Muslim student population during ‘Islam Awareness Week’ (IAW).”
“A disturbing effort to intimidate the campus population, and in particular, to target Concordia’s Muslim student population during ‘Islam Awareness Week’ (IAW).”
“The MSA calls on law enforcement to investigate the incident as a hate crime,” read the statement. “It further welcomes the words of solidarity and support issued by the Concordia University administration and by the Concordia Student Union (CSU). A threat against one of us is indeed a threat against all of us. […] The MSA unequivocally condemns all acts of violence and discrimination against any individual or group. No faith community should have to live in fear about the safety and well-being of its community members.”
Subsequent threat against McGill
Louis Arsenault, VP Communications and External Relations at McGill, provided a statement to The Daily by email, in response to C4’s threat to “spread [their] fight to McGill too.”
“McGill is taking all measures necessary to ensure the safety of all members of its community. Our Security Services personnel are in contact with and are working with the SPVM,” wrote Arsenault. “There has been no specific threat made against McGill buildings, as there was at Concordia University, where police today found no physical evidence of a threat to members of the Concordia community.”
According to Arsenault’s statement, the University “condemns all forms of and threats of violence against any member of its diverse community.”
Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP University Affairs Erin Sobat emailed a statement to The Daily, speaking on behalf of the SSMU executive.
“No faith community should have to live in fear about the safety and well-being of its community members.”
“We are deeply disturbed by the events at Concordia,” wrote Sobat, “which we understand to be part of a pattern of increased hate, intimidation, and violence against marginalized communities and faith groups in Quebec and Canada. We denounce such acts of terror and stand in solidarity with our Muslim students who face islamophobia every day. We also call on our administration to do more than secure the physical safety of our campus by taking steps to actively combat intolerance and foster an environment where all of our community members feel safe.”
Sobat urged the administration to take tangible steps to establish a better relationship with the Muslim community at McGill, and commit to actively combatting Islamophobia.
“This is an opportunity for the university to collaborate with Muslim groups and allies to determine how we can better meet their needs as a community, for example by heeding repeated calls to provide accessible prayer spaces on campus,” he wrote. “The SSMU remains committed to advocating for these needs and we welcome input from our members on how best to respond to recent events.”
Who are C4?
Because the group purportedly behind the bomb threat calls itself the Council of Conservative Citizens of Canada, there has been speculation that C4 is a splinter group of the better-known Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC), a U.S. white supremacist group. Based out of St. Louis, Missouri, the CofCC is led by Canadian Paul Fromm, a Neo-Nazi who has been linked to multiple white supremacist groups across the U.S. and Canada.
“We also call on our administration […] to actively combat intolerance and foster an environment where all of our community members feel safe.”
The CofCC was in the news in 2015, when it emerged that Dylann Roof, the terrorist who murdered nine people at a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, had referenced the group several times in his manifesto.
The CofCC has denied any knowledge of the bomb threat at Concordia or of C4.
Rising Islamophobia in Canada
The Concordia threat was the most recent in a series of local Islamophobic incidents; indeed, Islamophobia appears to have been on the rise in Canada in recent months.
In December 2016, shortly after Trump’s election, fliers were posted around the Milton-Parc neighbourhood which contained the slogan “Make Canada Great Again,” as well as homophobic and Islamophobic symbols.
On January 29, a white supremacist walked into a Quebec City mosque during evening prayer and opened fire, killing six people. The 27 year old shooter was a student at the University of Laval, and a known supporter of Trump and the far-right. Following the attack in Quebec City, Montreal experienced a sharp spike in hate crimes committed against Muslims, with 14 hate crimes committed in the first two days following the attack. According to statistics provided by the SPVM, hate crimes against Muslims in Montreal have been steadily increasing, with 137 last year, compared to 81 in 2013.
According to statistics provided by the SPVM, hate crimes against Muslims in Montreal have been steadily increasing, with 137 last year, compared to 81 in 2013.
More recently, a pro-Islamophobia rally titled “URGENT Rally for Free Speech” was organized in Toronto by The Rebel, a far-right media outlet. In fact, a similar rally organized by the “Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens” will occur at noon at the Montreal City Hall on Saturday March 4. An anti-fascist counter-protest will be taking place at the same time and place.
UPDATE: It is now being reported that Hisham Saadi, the man charged in connection to the bomb threat, was a PhD student in economics at Concordia. This story will be updated further as more details emerge.