Evidence of meeting #31 for Public Safety and National Security in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was far-right.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Christian Leuprecht  Professor, As an Individual
Barbara Perry  Professor, As an Individual
Phil Gurski  Retired Canadian Intelligence Analyst, Terrorism Specialist, As an Individual
Martin Geoffroy  Director, Research Professor, Centre d’expertise et de formation sur les intégrismes religieux, les idéologies politiques et la radicalisation

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Yes.

You may go ahead. You have seven minutes.

4:45 p.m.

Director, Research Professor, Centre d’expertise et de formation sur les intégrismes religieux, les idéologies politiques et la radicalisation

Martin Geoffroy

My colleague Barbara Perry, who, like me, studies right-wing extremism, has done research focusing mainly on the emergence of right-wing extremism online. The research centre where I work, Centre d’expertise et de formation sur les intégrismes religieux, les idéologies politiques et la radicalisation, or CEFIR, in Longueuil, near Montreal, recently published a study on right-wing extremism in Quebec.

The study did not focus on right-wing extremism online. A lot of research is actually conducted on the subject, but seldom do studies address right-wing extremist events that take place in the real world, in other words, in the street. When I started doing this research, I was surprised to see that, before our centre came along, the scientific literature on Quebec included hardly any research on the number of events held in Quebec in connection with right-wing extremist groups. That's what we undertook to do in our research. We put together a timeline of events associated with far-right activity in Quebec over the last decade, so from 2010 to 2020.

As I said, most of the research in this area deals with the emergence of activity online. That makes understanding the situation more difficult. Mr. Gurski made the point earlier,

talk the talk and walk the walk.

Making hateful comments online is one thing, but acting on them in real life is another. That's what we wanted to investigate. Many were surprised when our findings revealed that 521 events related to far-right groups had taken place in Quebec in the last 10 years. Given how extensive the study was and how long it took, I would be happy to provide more details on the study should you have any questions afterwards. We provided some documentation on the most active groups. The numbers showed a spike in activity in 2017, following the attack on the Quebec City mosque and the events related to Quebec's charter of values. A rise in far-right activity was observed during that period.

Our graph revealed a slight decline in 2019, with a significant increase noted in 2020, during the pandemic. The nebulous far right in Quebec somewhat benefited from the pandemic.

In conjunction with our work on right-wing extremism, we conduct studies on movements that object to the public health measures and believe in conspiracy theories. We noted that, in 2020, most of the far-right groups reorganized themselves around the movement against public health measures. Former members of far-right groups that have almost disappeared make up a large proportion of the groups against public health measures. That's true for Storm Alliance and La Meute. Many of those who belonged to the two groups in 2018 and 2019 are now leaders of the groups against public health measures.

Overall, our research shows a rise in far-right activity, not necessarily online, but in real life. The activity varies, ranging from protests and hate graffiti to online harassment. Those are real actions people have taken, not comments they have posted online. The activity even includes terrorism. In many cases, it involves harassing or bullying people they consider enemies. In 2018, I myself, was on the receiving end when I was giving a talk at Cégep Édouard-Montpetit. During a seminar on right-wing extremism, members of La Meute and the Soldiers of Odin showed up to cause a ruckus and scare us. They were there the whole day. That is a bullying tactic; it is one of the 521 events documented in our list.

Lastly, in Quebec, we noted an increase in real-life protests involving far-right groups, as well as an increase in violence, with 2020 being the most violent year.

I was surprised to hear Barbara Perry say earlier that those in the far-right movement follow the public health measures. I'm not sure whether Quebec is a distinct society on that front as well, but I would say that members of the far right in Quebec are very much against the public health measures. They have even led the movement against the public health rules. They systematically disobey the public health rules.

Are my seven minutes up, Mr. Chair?

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

You have a minute left.

4:50 p.m.

Director, Research Professor, Centre d’expertise et de formation sur les intégrismes religieux, les idéologies politiques et la radicalisation

Martin Geoffroy

All right.

Here is an overview. Over the last 10 years, a total of 113 events involving some type of violence occurred, given that we observed a number of categories of violence. Over the last 10 years in Quebec, 22% of right-wing extremist events were violent. Violence has been on the rise since the early 2010s, with the rate increasing sharply in the second half of the decade. The yearly average went from 2.6 violent events between 2010 and 2015 to 19.4 violent events between 2016 and 2020. Therefore, the increase in violence related to far-right groups in Quebec is problematic.

In fact, events involving physical violence jumped dramatically during the second half of the decade. Until 2015, the average number of events involving physical violence was two, but the number rose to nine beginning in 2016. In 2017, we noted 23 violent events, and in 2020, a total of 35 violent events involving far-right groups were noted.

The most violent year of the decade was 2020.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Professor Geoffroy.

This is a six-minute round.

We now have Mr. Van Popta, Mr. Lightbound, Madam Larouche and Mr. Harris, please, with six minutes each.

Go ahead, Mr. Van Popta.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Tako Van Popta Conservative Langley—Aldergrove, BC

Thank you very much to the witnesses for being here.

My first question will be for you, Professor Geoffroy. You talked quite a bit about the extreme right. CSIS says that's not a very useful categorization. They've adopted the term “ideologically motivated violent extremism”, or IMVE. I wonder if you have any thoughts about that.

Also, specifically, they've identified three categories: ideologically, politically and religiously motivated extremist violence. How useful do you think those three categorizations are? In particular, the mosque attack in Quebec was categorized as ideologically motivated, not religiously motivated.

4:55 p.m.

Director, Research Professor, Centre d’expertise et de formation sur les intégrismes religieux, les idéologies politiques et la radicalisation

Martin Geoffroy

What do I think about this? For my part, I think that when you talk about Islamism and you relate....

I'm going to switch languages now, because it will be easier for me to explain.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

All right.

4:55 p.m.

Director, Research Professor, Centre d’expertise et de formation sur les intégrismes religieux, les idéologies politiques et la radicalisation

Martin Geoffroy

Talking about Islamic terrorism and right-wing extremism without talking about Christianity reveals a cultural bias. Allow me to explain. When people talk about terrorism, they associate it with the Islamic religion, something they do not do with the Christian religion, which tends to be the religion of mainstream society. They dissociate the far right, politics and the Christian religion, but all the right-wing extremist groups I study are made up of fundamentalist Christians.

It's important to differentiate between the practice of a religion through Sunday worship, for instance, and religious fundamentalism, which exists in all of the world's major monotheistic religions, whether it be Islam, Christianity or Buddhism, as Mr. Gurski mentioned. In Myanmar, the terrorists are Buddhists, thank you very much.

I don't think those categories are adequate because they fail to take into account the fact that fundamentalism, whether it be Catholic, Christian or what have you, is closely associated with far-right political movements.

I'll give you a few examples from Quebec. According to our research, one of the most active neo-fascist groups in Quebec is Atalante. The Fédération des Québécois de souche is another. Both groups are very close to a Catholic group in Quebec by the name of Fraternité sacerdotale Saint-Pie X, which runs a Catholic fundamentalist school in Lévis. That group is the basis for an article I'm working on, which will be published in a book soon. All of those Quebec groups draw their intellectual and political inspiration from the religious group Fraternité sacerdotale Saint-Pie X.

In September, we will be publishing another article on youth groups in Longueuil that are inspired by the Fraternité sacerdotale Saint-Pie X and another far-right group, Tradition Québec, which even launched a new right-wing extremist group made up of young people. We present them in the article and refer to them as Zoomers and Groypers. I won't define those terms today, but they are closely linked to the meme culture and the culture of young traditionalists.

I never thought I would see young students who are traditionalist, Catholic far-right fundamentalists, but they exist. One of them attended the CEGEP where I teach. Fortunately, the phenomenon is relatively marginal, but that does not mean a fringe group cannot be dangerous.

To answer your question about categorization, I think it's important to take into account the fact that all of those extremist groups, whether on the far left or the far right, are closely associated with fundamentalist movements in various monotheistic religions. Right-wing extremist groups in Quebec are very closely linked to fundamentalist groups, but not to the Catholic religion.

The Fraternité sacerdotale Saint-Pie X, for instance, is not part of the Catholic Church. It was excommunicated in 1988. It is very much a hate group. What is specific to extremist groups, be they—

5 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Unfortunately, Mr. Van Popta's time is up. You have my apologies for that, but time is the enemy in all of these committee meetings.

Mr. Lightbound is next, for six minutes, please.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Joël Lightbound Liberal Louis-Hébert, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My questions are for Professor Geoffroy.

Thank you very much for being here and sharing your expertise with the committee. It just confirms how important this study is.

5 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Joël, your microphone is not connected properly.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Joël Lightbound Liberal Louis-Hébert, QC

My apologies to the interpreters. My mike was not connected properly. The problem is fixed now.

Mr. Geoffroy, thank you very much for being here today and sharing your expertise with the committee. It just confirms how important this study is.

Given everything we have heard, I can't help but point something out. You noted an increase of more than 6,000% in events involving right-wing extremist groups over the last decade. You said the number of events had gone from two to 129 a year; that is a huge jump.

CSIS's latest report on threats in Canada shows that 21 people have been killed and 40 others have been injured on Canadian soil since 2014 further to ideologically motivated violent extremism. More people have been victims of ideologically motivated violent extremism than of politically or religiously motivated violent extremism. That, too, confirms just how pertinent the committee's study is.

Barbara Perry, the director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University, told us that right-wing extremist movements had a gun culture. She said one of the mantras of the Proud Boys was “we love our guns”.

From what you've observed in your research, have you seen a similar connection between right-wing extremist groups in Quebec and guns?

5 p.m.

Director, Research Professor, Centre d’expertise et de formation sur les intégrismes religieux, les idéologies politiques et la radicalisation

Martin Geoffroy

We haven't studied those groups, specifically, but certain groups in Quebec do promote arms, the Three Percenters among others. I doubt Quebec has any Proud Boys members, because they are much more present in English-speaking Canada.

Right-wing extremist groups have a whole masculinity-affirming culture, and a culture that values not just freedom of expression, but also the taking up of arms, and that comes from the United States. The gun culture can go hand in hand with a culture that revolves around more traditional masculinity.

Soon, we will have research on the role of women in these far-right groups. We've interviewed a number of women members, and their role is very traditional. For example, they cook but do not make decisions. You see what I mean. The fact that more and more women belong to these groups is certainly noteworthy.

To give you a very brief answer to your question, I would say a connection certainly exists between these groups and the promotion of guns. In Quebec, members of certain far-right groups have often taken to the streets in military garb. We started doing research on that in co-operation with the Royal Military College Saint-Jean. In fact, at Cégep Édouard-Montpetit, we will be holding a seminar on right-wing extremism in the armed forces in February of next year.

We are seeing many former members of the armed forces who belong to far-right groups, and obviously, that is consistent with the gun culture. One of the founders of La Meute, one of Quebec's main right-wing extremist groups for a period of time, was actually a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces who had fought in Afghanistan. He said he founded the group after being traumatized by the war in Afghanistan. La Meute is a fascinating group because it adopts a military-like power structure, as these types of groups often do. Within La Meute, members had military ranks.

In short, a connection exists between these groups and the taking up of arms.

May 31st, 2021 / 5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Joël Lightbound Liberal Louis-Hébert, QC

I find it intriguing how you outlined the development of these movements over the past decade in your report. You spoke about the germination, outbreak, growth and development of these groups. Between 2017 and 2019, we saw many more groups like La Meute, which you just referred to, in the public arena. We also saw that these groups were fuelled by different events in the news. The American election, the migration movement at the border and refugee protection claimants come to mind.

You spoke of the charter of values and the secularism law. I would have added the global compact for migration. There have been all kinds of conspiracy theories about Canada ceding control of its borders to the United Nations. Even some of my Conservative colleagues in the House of Commons suggested that this was the case.

You said that, since 2020, there has been a shift from more nativist theories focused on a fear of immigration and on rather xenophobic sentiments towards a stronger movement against health measures, the authorities and the elites.

To what extent do these two agendas overlap in far-right movements right now? Are both agendas being fuelled, or is there really a shift in ideology towards health measures and away from the more xenophobic or anti-migration sentiments?

5:05 p.m.

Director, Research Professor, Centre d’expertise et de formation sur les intégrismes religieux, les idéologies politiques et la radicalisation

Martin Geoffroy

“A leopard cannot change its spots.”

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

You have less than 20 seconds.

5:05 p.m.

Director, Research Professor, Centre d’expertise et de formation sur les intégrismes religieux, les idéologies politiques et la radicalisation

Martin Geoffroy

I have 20 seconds. Is that what you're telling me?

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Joël Lightbound Liberal Louis-Hébert, QC

Yes, exactly. I'm sorry.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

It's 20 seconds.

5:05 p.m.

Director, Research Professor, Centre d’expertise et de formation sur les intégrismes religieux, les idéologies politiques et la radicalisation

Martin Geoffroy

I don't know what to say in 20 seconds.

We've noticed that, over the past year, far-right groups have set aside their anti-immigration agenda somewhat and shifted towards an anti-authority agenda. This is what we call “all-out anti-authority.” However, behind this anti-authority agenda, we can see that anti-immigration is never far away.

I could go into more detail if someone wants to ask me another question about this topic.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Joël Lightbound Liberal Louis-Hébert, QC

Thank you.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Mr. Lightbound.

I'm sure Madam Larouche would be delighted to carry on that question.

Ms. Larouche, you have six minutes.

5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Andréanne Larouche Bloc Shefford, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair. You seem to know me well.

I want to continue along the same lines as my colleague, Mr. Lightbound. It's fascinating. Mr. Geoffroy, I'll briefly address this topic, because I have another question for you first.

You spoke about the upcoming study on far-right codes in the Canadian Armed Forces. I gather that you'll be conducting a study at the CEGEP. It's still about the sexualization women's bodies and the toxic masculinity that we associate with misogyny. At the same time, in the immigration policy agenda, I can identify a movement to return to the traditional role of women. That way, women must oppose immigration policies and have more children. They're relying on more nativist policies. I can also see a threat to the advancement of women in this far-right movement.

5:05 p.m.

Director, Research Professor, Centre d’expertise et de formation sur les intégrismes religieux, les idéologies politiques et la radicalisation

Martin Geoffroy

What's the question?