‘There are many degrees of hate’: Quebec blogger takes on far right

‘There are many degrees of hate’: Quebec blogger takes on far right

MONTREAL — Far-right group La Meute was once seen as a growing threat in Quebec, with members marching by the hundreds through city streets against what they claimed was the creeping “Islamization” of society.

But La Meute — or The Pack — began to implode just a few years after it was created in 2015. By 2019, its signature wolf-paw symbol had practically disappeared from view as infighting reportedly tore the group apart.

The demise of La Meute wasn’t by chance, says Xavier Camus, who calls himself a ”progressive” blogger with ties to the province’s anti-fascist movement. He claims he and a loose network of “moles” infiltrated the group and brought it down by stirring up internal dissent.

“We destroyed La Meute. We generated an internal collapse,” Camus said one recent afternoon in a downtown vegetarian cafe. The far-right group’s leader, he said, has been left “a king without a kingdom.”

Camus is attracting increasing attention in Quebec as he uses his blog and Facebook page to expose people he believes espouse hate speech, with striking results.

On Jan. 7, a 38-year-old man appeared in court in Granby, Que., on charges of inciting hatred and advocating genocide after Camus exposed homophobic and racist online posts he allegedly wrote.

An October 2018 article on Camus’ blog drew attention to comments advocating the murder of Jews beneath a story on the Journal de Montreal website, and shortly afterwards police arrested and charged a 55-year-old man.

Camus has sunk the political ambitions of provincial political candidates by publishing their online Islamophobic comments. And the blogger got a Montreal city councillor kicked out of her caucus in March 2019 after he exposed her Facebook posts, in which she raged about the “Islamization of our country” after she was treated by an ophthalmologist who wore a hijab.

If the 42-year-old father and junior college philosophy professor stopped at posting about clear cases of racism and neo-Nazism, then he would probably receive less heat. But his critics accuse him and his ilk of starting more fires than they put out.

Francois Charbonneau, a political science professor at University of Ottawa, says Camus’ approach fails to distinguish between reprehensible online chatter and mainstream conservative political opinion.

“He hurts the possibility of dialogue between the left and the right,” Charbonneau said in a recent interview. For Camus and the wider anti-fascist movement, he said, there are no grey zones: ”There is one side of ‘racists,’ without nuance, and then there is the big camp of ‘virtuous anti-fascists,’ also without nuance.”

Camus doesn’t come from the hardcore punk subculture that has helpedfuel the North American anti-fascist movement. Instead, his political awakening occurred during the Quebec student strikes of 2005 and 2012. Rather than street fighting with the far right, Camus wages his battle with his computer, research skills and writing talent.

But there is a difference between exposing an alleged neo-Nazi and targeting citizens who makes stupid comments online about women in hijabs, says Charbonneau. The former action is laudable, while the latter might push someone into actually becoming a fascist, he said.

“We aren’t gods,” Charbonneau said. “We are all fallible. In your life, you can say something racist … but what should our reaction be?”

Camus’ blog and Facebook page also single out mainstream news columnists in Quebec who express nationalist, conservative opinions on such issues as immigration, secularism and Quebecois identity. His other targets include people who make off-colour and racist statements on social media or in the comment sections of news articles — whether or not they have clear links to far-right groups.

Camus dismisses the claim that his Facebook or blog equates conservative columnists in Quebec with neo-Nazis and fascists.

“There are many degrees of hate,” Camus said. “For example, neo-Nazism is an extreme ideology, and then there is ordinary Islamophobia, which is shared by a large number of people.”

It’s hard to prove Camus’ contention that there is a prominent anti-Islam strain in Quebec society. But it’s easy to find anecdotal examples of Quebecers’ discomfort with Muslim immigrants.

Last October, for example, the bishop of the diocese of Trois-Rivieres — located between Montreal and Quebec City — stopped the sale of an underused church to a Muslim group that wanted to transform it into a mosque. Local opposition to the sale was so strong the bishop nixed the deal out of fear for the safety of city’s Muslims.

Certain conservative columnists, Camus says, espouse nationalist rhetoric that helps to popularize a type of soft xenophobia, which becomes increasingly acceptable to the wider public. Far-right groups feed on that and take it a step further.

“More and more, in the collective memory, we have this common enemy — the Muslim,” he said. “And this figure of the common enemy was constructed. My bet is that it can also be deconstructed.”

It’s unclear whether Camus and a collection of anti-fascist moles actually “destroyed” La Meute. The group’s website and Facebook page are still active, and La Meute’s spokesman, Sylvain Brouillette, said Camus had as much influence on his group as have ”pigeon droppings.”

Brouillette said in an interview through Facebook that La Meute continues to organize events at the “regional clan” level. The only reason his group hasn’t held any recent demonstrations, he said, is because its members have been satisfied with the current Quebec government of Premier Francois Legault.

Charbonneau questions whether far-right sentiment is truly increasing in the province and whether anti-hate vigilantism does anything to reduce intolerance in society.

But Camus says he is convinced that he and allies in the anti-fascist movement are doing the work that police, politicians, and journalists are failing to do to make the far-right as distasteful as possible to the wider public.

“The role of my blog will always be a sort of safeguard, to make different kinds of intolerance retreat,” he said. “My role is to show people: ‘Look, this is not normal what they are saying.’ These organizations are not normal.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer city council gave initial approval for more mixed-use developments in Riverside Light Industrial Park. (File photo by Advocate staff)
More industrial landowners in Red Deer are pursuing mixed-use zoning

A third of Riverside Light could become a commercial/industrial district

Central Alberta man facing second-degree murder in connection with December death.
Advocate file photo
Central Alberta man facing second-degree murder in connection with December death

Maskwacis RCMP said female found dead in Ermineskin Cree Nation residence last December

Red Deer College has been working towards obtaining university status for a couple of years. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer College can offer degrees without becoming a university: Alberta government

Red Deer College should be worried that its university dreams could be… Continue reading

The Mountain Cree Traditional Band headquarters in Mirror, Alta. has been the target of theft and vandalism. (Photo submitted)
Vandals strike: Artifacts worth $1M gone from central Alberta museum

AWNTB says not enough been done to deter crime in Mirror, Alta.

Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said there are 739 people in hospital across Alberta, including 120 in ICU. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Updated: Eleven more Albertans die from COVID-19

There were 739 people in hospital, 120 in ICU on Monday

Justin Kripps of Summerland and his team have competed in Olympic action and World Cup competitions in bobsleigh. (Jason Ransom-Canadian Olympic Comittee).
QUIZ: Are you ready for some winter sports?

It’s cold outside, but there are plenty of recreation opportunities in the winter months

People evacuate from the West Front of the U.S. Capitol during a rehearsal the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Inauguration rehearsal evacuated after fire in homeless camp

Inauguration rehearsal evacuated after fire in homeless camp

Honduran migrants show their route on a map of Mexico and Central America to reporters, as they sit near a police roadblock at a highway in Vado Hondo, Guatemala, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021. Guatemalan police and soldiers used tear gas and wielded batons and shields against a group of Honduran migrants that tried to push through their roadblock. (AP Photo/Sandra Sebastian)
Guatemala troops, police break up caravan of weary migrants

Guatemala troops, police break up caravan of weary migrants

FIL - In this Nov. 7, 2020, file photo Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaks in Wilmington, Del. Harris will make history Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, when she becomes the nation’s first Black, South Asian and female vice president. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Harris prepares for central role in Biden’s White House

Harris prepares for central role in Biden’s White House

Biden to propose 8-year citizenship path for immigrants

Biden to propose 8-year citizenship path for immigrants

FILE - In this Aug. 14, 2017, file photo, a comfort woman statue is placed on a chair of a bus to mark the 5th International Memorial Day for Comfort Women, in Seoul, South Korea. Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, in his diplomatic speech on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021 said a recent South Korean court ruling ordering Japan's government to pay compensation to 12 South Korean former “comfort women” over World War II-era sexual abuses by Japanese troops was "an abnormal development absolutely unthinkable under international law and bilateral relations.” (AP Photo/Ahn Young-Joon, File)
Japan urges South Korea to drop wartime compensation demands

Japan urges South Korea to drop wartime compensation demands

FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2021 photo provided by the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner, National Guard members assisting with processing COVID-19 deaths, placing them into temporary storage at the medical examiner-coroner's office in Los Angeles. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths is rising in 30 states and the District of Columbia, and on Monday, Jan 18, 2021, the U.S. was approaching 398,000, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University, by far the highest of any country in the world. (Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner via AP, File)
Coronavirus deaths rising in 30 US states amid winter surge

Coronavirus deaths rising in 30 US states amid winter surge

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Blanchet’s choice to block critics on Twitter limits free speech: experts

Blanchet’s choice to block critics on Twitter limits free speech: experts

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, on Dec. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservative policy convention may put O’Toole’s pledge of moderation to the test

Conservative policy convention may put O’Toole’s pledge of moderation to the test

Most Read