Content warning: white supremacy, racism, colonialism.
Early last week, white supremacist posters were put up around Milton Parc on behalf of a group called “Generation Identity.” The posters advertise a book called “Canada in Decay,” encouraging anti-immigration sentiments. The subtitle of the book references the “ethnocide of Euro-Canadians.” Similar posters were found in Milton Parc and on campus in September. These earlier posters also advertised Generation Identity and featured the slogan, “defend your freedom,” in the context of multiculturalism.
Generation Identity is a group that started in France in 2002 and began organizing in Canada in 2014. They claim that ethnically European Canadians are “losing their identity” to immigration and diversity. On their Facebook page, they write, “Canada is a nation of conquerors and colonizers. […] We refuse to spit on the names of our ancestors and those who sacrificed everything to build this beautiful country only to protect the decaying ideals of political correctness and ‘diversity.’”
In an interview with The Daily, the Students Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP External, Connor Spencer, discussed why the dissemination of these posters has been isolated to the area around McGill. Spencer stressed that while it is unlikely that these posters were put up by students, they are clearly meant to recruit the McGill population. Moreover, the posters haven’t been posted on Concordia’s campus, which implicitly reveals that the McGill campus was perceived as more tolerant to white supremacist ideals. This exposes flaws in the way in which McGill has addressed white supremacist organizing in Montreal.
She argued, “There aren’t really widespread tools or conversation platforms about these kind of ideologies being on our campus and around our campus. So I think one of the first things that we have to do is include ourselves in the conversation,” said Spencer. “Concordia is much farther ahead than we are in talking about the alt-right as it happens in Montreal. […] They have workshops, they have info-sessions, they have a much more active and mobilized network and they have student groups that are specifically about addressing that, which we don’t really have, or at least we don’t have visibly. […] McGill students are talking about it, but not at a platformed level.”
In response to this lack of visibility, Spencer is organizing workshops in collaboration with the “Grande manifestation contre la haine et le racisme,” an anti-racist demonstration taking place on November 12. These workshops will focus on identifying the language of white supremacists, and discussing ways to combat the spread of their movements.
“There’s an alt-right toolbox, and you don’t necessarily need to be an alt-right group to use alt-right tools,” said Spencer. “I think that’s why it’s really important that we have those spaces where we can discuss that and teach each other what those tools are so that we can identify them, because things are a lot less scary when you can identify when someone is […] reworking arguments or using certain ways of coming at topics to confuse people or make them feel like they’re crazy.”
Spencer also stressed the connection between white supremacist groups in Montreal and the recent passing of Bill 62, which denies public services to women who cover their faces. This law proports to further “religious neutrality,” while targeting Muslim women who wear niqabs and burqas.
“There’s a lot of under-stirrings of the very Quebec mentality [that] neutrality is [synonymous with] white Christian, […] or white Catholic,” said Spencer. “The underlying racism within that sentiment is getting stirred all back up again with Bill 62.”
“Those kinds of sentiments that we see get reoccurred, they’re always hashed out by legislation,” she continued, “It’s not that police are going to go onto buses and force every woman to unveil, but now it’s going to empower citizens to feel like they are able to confront women who wear veils on public transportation, […] that they have that within their right, and that’s what’s terrifying.”
In response to this recent mobilization of white supremacist groups on both the local and provincial levels, Spencer is working with Matthew Savage, a SSMU Councilor from the Faculty of Social Work, to condemn harmful groups and ensure that they don’t have a platform on campus.
“The councilors gave me a mandate to bring this conversation up again and to prepare a list of the kind of alt-right, far-right groups that are active in the Montreal area to this council, which is tonight, and that’s exciting because hopefully we can actually address some of this,” said Spencer.
In an interview with The Daily, Savage raised concerns about these groups’ use of vague language, such as ethno-state, which allows them to disseminate dangerous ideas under the guise of free speech.
“Anyone that says they believe in an ethno-state shouldn’t have the power to assemble,” said Savage. “Just because you’re giving hate speech politely, still makes it hate speech. When you use terms like ‘ethnocide’ or we want to ‘peacefully assemble to create an ethno-state’, what are you saying with that? You’re saying that anyone that isn’t of European descent has less claims to the land than you. […] And then when you do achieve the power, what happens to people that have lived here for generations? What do you do with them then? Where does that question lead? You have two choices: you’re either going to have to force people out or you’re going to have to do something worse. Either way you’re using violence and just because you’re saying it politely doesn’t make it non-violent.”
Spencer and Savage are compiling a list of white supremacist groups that are active in Montreal. The list includes groups such as La Meute, Quebec’s largest white supremacist group, and Atalante, a group that “advocates openly for a ‘renaissance of the neo-French in Quebec,’” according to a January 2017 article in the CBC.
As of now, SSMU’s plan is to openly condemn these groups, making it difficult for them to assemble on campus. “If something isn’t said in policies, or in student conduct, or in any of those contracts between the faculty and students,” said Savage. “Then you can find a way in, and that’s why I really want to close these gaps.”