As the far-right attempted to mobilize demonstrations all over North America on Saturday, anti-fascists came out in force to oppose them. In Montreal, the far-right organized under the banner of La Meute (The Wolf Pack), an anti-Muslim group which was founded by a former soldier in the Canadian army.
Anti-fascists attempted to shut the far-right down, but faced down with an extremely determined police force who were intent on allowing the fascists to march. This was the first time that a far-right organization has been able to hold the streets in Montreal in years.
Video Ninja: Jon Milton
Assessment & Report-Back from
This is a quick personal assessment and report-back of today’s anti-racist counter-demonstration in Montreal to an attempted mobilization by racist, anti-immigrant Islamophobes. This is a public report-back (I know that anyone can read it). I can share other info privately with comrades.
This is simply one anti-racist activist’s take on what happened earlier today in Montreal, influenced by discussions with comrades, many of whom have shared much of what is written below already.
It’s essential to be brutally honest: Today’s mobilization was a tactical failure by anti-racists and anti-fascists in Montreal. It wasn’t enough for us to be on the streets or to be more numerous than racists; we needed to minimally prevent the Islamophobic racists from marching and attempt to shut them down. However, more than 100 racist demonstrators, surrounded by cops, succeeded in marching from near City Hall to Berri Square, and we were unable to stop them. This is simply unacceptable, and a huge failure.
For the past two years, despite the recent rise of anti-immigrant, racist groups, we have prevented the far-right from marching or demonstrating publicly, or confronted them with some success (eg: failed Pégida demonstrations in St-Michel and Villeray; failed JDL mobilizations and events in Montreal; preventing the anti-immigrant, racist Marche du Silence; actively confronting Marine LePen’s visit to Montreal). Today, the racist far-right succeeded in marching on Montreal’s streets, and there’s no way to sugar-coat that reality.
Speaking with comrades afterwards, and reflecting personally, there were several immediate reasons for our collective failure, in my opinion:
i) When our 400 strong contingent was separated from the racist demonstration and there was essentially a 45-minute period where we were on one side and their 100+ demo was on the other, a critical mass of our main demo (perhaps at least 50 to 100 people) should have moved on side streets to the other side, to box-in the racists. It would have been harder for the cops to push through us to allow a racist march than for us to get through riot cops (which we weren’t able to do). To be fair, people were talking about this, some individuals did move, but it never happened in an effective, decisive way.
ii) Our anti-racist demonstration should have been much larger. We were no more than 400 people at the high point, and we should have been at least 1000 people. Please, take calls to confront fascists and racists seriously, change plans if necessary, and show up (if you have the ability to do so), or play just-as-necessary support roles to allow other people to show up.
iii) Show up on time when confronting racists; we were 400 people at the high point, but likely only 200 at 11:30am. There were already racists present, and we could have perhaps coordinated a break into two anti-racist demos, to box-in the racists, if more people were present earlier.
iv) The racist, anti-immigrant, Islamophobes were mobilized and organized. They managed to gather together at least 100 people. The “Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens”, the nebulous Islamophobic group that called the protest across Canada, was essentially taken over in Quebec by the racist La Meute group, who organize on quasi-military lines. We are way beyond the days when activist cynics would de-prioritize anti-fascist efforts as not central to organizing because only a handful of fascists would show up to the racist demos they tried to organize (our mobilizations had something to do with keeping those fascists to a handful). The racist, anti-immigrant far-right is organized and mobilized in Quebec, including in Montreal. From reports I’ve read and videos I’ve seen, these racists marched openly (albeit in small numbers) in Quebec City and Chicoutimi today, in addition to Montreal.
v) Not only did the racist demo manage to march, surrounded by cops, from near City Hall to Berri Square, but La Meute arrived at the demo by marching from Berri Square to City Hall (coordinating their efforts with the cops). It was a tactical failure not to know about this march in advance and to do something about it.
vi) Our collective communications today was a failure. Next time, there needs to be organized, not improvised, runners and scouts, and some level of coordinated, reliable communications, part of a collective plan to surround the racists, box them-in, and then try to shut them down.
One possible positive outcome of today’s failure to shut-down racists is that we can be less complacent in our anti-fascist organizing, and get better organized, meaning also to not rely on “antifa” being a subculture, but rather a central organizing priority of all groups that oppose racism and fascism. Another outcome is that we need to take the growing anti-immigrant, far-right in Quebec and Canada seriously (in case some people weren’t). Another outcome is to challenge our existing organizing models, especially the reliance (by some) on total improvisation over some basic, reliable, necessary organization.
For those who weren’t there, here’s a bare-bones report-back of what happened:
The callout for an anti-fascist/anti-racist counter-demo was timed for 11:30am, at least 30 minutes before the racist demo was going to start in front of Montreal City Hall. Before 11:30am, about a dozen people who were intending to protest at the racist march were present, with about 100 anti-racists present, with more arriving slowly over the next 30 minutes. There were verbal confrontations, and at least one physical confrontation, between the racists and anti-racists. The cops ended up dividing up the two groups, with the racists moved by the cops to the east of City Hall, and our larger group of anti-racists to the west. A line of cops separated us and created a buffer zone of about half a block between the racists and anti-racists.
For about 45 minutes, or more, there was chanting from our end to the other end. During that time, the La Meute people arrived and joined the small group of racists. Their numbers increased from a few dozen to about 100 or more, waving their clearly visible wolf claw flags. A small group held up “Pégida Quebec” signs (a reference to the anti-Islam, anti-immigrant group that began in Germany, and failed at previous attempts in Montreal to demonstrate publicly).
It became clear that the racist demo began marching east on Notre-Dame towards Berri. The police line was moving back and we followed it (although in retrospect we should have just doubled back to try to block the racist demo). During this move, there were skirmishes with the riot cops. The cops deployed pepper spray and some comrades received baton blows (one individual had his teeth cracked by a baton blow; we got the badge number of the cop and will follow-up with support).
Eventually, there was seemingly a collective strategy, and that was to try to catch the racist march by running up (at one point, literally running) St-Denis street, and trying to go across a side street to Berri to confront the racists. However, both times this was attempted (that I observed) a line of riot police (and bike cops) prevented us from getting to the racist demo.
By the time we reached De Maisonneuve and St-Denis, La Meute had already arrived at Berri Square and was dispersing. The main group of anti-racists went north to try to find a way to double-back to Berri Square. I was part of a small group that stayed, and seeing that the cops were demobilizing, walked to Berri Square. There were about 50-75 La Meute people left, dispersing, so we heckled from a distance. Riot cops were present, and eventually set up a line against our small (20 people) group.
Much later (about 10 minutes later), the larger anti-racist group arrived, but everything was over. Some folks took solace in burning the signs that the racists left, and singing the Internationale, but that definitely wasn’t my mindset after such a huge tactical failure.
For the liberals…
Here’s a reminder about why the demo today was racist, Islamophobic and anti-immigrant (and not simply about M103 and free speech): The individual(s) behind the Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens have publicly expressed anti-immigrant views, deliberately exaggerated the effects of motion M103 and other policies in an Islamophobic way, expressed openly their admiration for Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump, posted videos from extreme far-right groups in Eastern Europe with slogans like “Islam out” and “no more mosques,” and expressed quasi-anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about George Soros and the world order. Their Quebec-based marches have been openly supported, and organized, by far-right, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim groups like La Meute. These groups claim to be concerned about Islam and Islamization, and not against Muslims, but when you deliberately exaggerate and repeat toxic falsehoods about Muslims and Islam, not to mention immigrants, then you’re being Islamophobic and racist. Individuals associated with these groups have both committed violence and express violence against identifiable groups (those groups – Muslims, migrants, people of colour, antifa activists – do not include white liberals).
The position of the groups who mobilized for today’s anti-racist counter-demonstration is that we don’t provide public space in our streets and neighborhoods for racists. Today wasn’t the day to “dialogue” with racists, but rather to shut them down. Some of us do dialogue with racists (many of us people of colour don’t really have a choice, the “dialogue” is imposed on us) but today was about an attempted shut down. Liberal second-guessing of effective anti-fascist tactics the moment when we’re trying to implement those tactics in the face of riot police, pepper spray and violent racists who have threatened us, at a demo based on clear callout to shut down fascists and racists, is incredibly counter-productive to an effective anti-racist movement. So are your condescending lessons about “diversity.” Fuck you.
Hoping this assessment and report-back is useful to people who were both present and not present at Montreal’s demo. More discussions, in our organizing spaces and elsewhere, are certainly going to happen, and this is one quick day-of contribution.
– Jaggi Singh,
member of le Collectif de résistance antiraciste de Montréal (CRAM) and Solidarité sans frontières
(this report-back is a personal reflection)