Vancouver and Quebec City were the locations of two anti-immigrant demonstrations and resulting counter-protests this past weekend. One expert says that while the events can be linked to recent violence in Charlottesville, Va., the issue is more nuanced than the rising tensions in the United States.
READ MORE: Thousands protest against anti-Islam, anti-immigration rally at Vancouver City Hall
Criminology professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, Dan Horner, said protests involving far-right groups aren’t new in Canada — and neither is the resulting dissent from the left.
“Canadians should keep in mind there is a long history of people using the streets,” he said.
“Far-right groups are taking to the streets to show they have strength, that they’re not just an internet sensation.”
Horner explained that while Vancouver and Quebec city saw anti-immigrant protests, the events were very different because of the cities’ own history.
What happened in Vancouver?
More than 4,000 people arrived at Vancouver City Hall in order to counter-protest an anti-immigrant and anti-Islam demonstration, which yielded a crowd of just over 100.
The peaceful counter-protest was largely successful in its goal of drowning out the opposing message, with the leader of the anti-immigrant movement deciding not to speak at the protest.
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The founder of the Cultural Action Party of Canada, Brad Salzberg, posting on Facebook Sunday, said that he felt his safety was in jeopardy, but said the group had made progress in raising awareness for their cause.
Horner said “anti-right activists” in Vancouver were able to succeed because they had a unified message of being “peace-loving people.”
Laura Madokoro, a history professor at McGill University, noted that Vancouver saw widespread anti-immigrant sentiment during the 1907 riots, which may make the city more vigilant of rising tensions, and more proactive in speaking out.
“There has been a great awareness in Vancouver about the city’s past,” she said, noting since then, community groups have worked to raise awareness against discrimination.
WATCH: Thousands protests against racist rallies in Vancouver
What caused the tensions in Quebec City?
The scene was quite different in Quebec City, where counter-protesters pelted police and used smoke bombs and eventually had their demonstration deemed illegal.
Horner said the tensions in Quebec City can be connected to the city’s past history, rather than just rising tensions in the U.S.
“These events, they plugged into a larger international conversation. They were also shaped by local events,” he said, explaining that left-wing groups have a tense history with the police in the city when it comes to police brutality and protests.
The Quebec anti-immigrant protests by group La Meute claimed they were victorious after carrying out a more peaceful demonstration.
WATCH: Counter-protesters clash with police in Quebec City
Were the protests comparable to what happened in Charlottesville?
Earlier in August, violence erupted in Charlottesville following a rally by white supremacists. A car drove into a counter-protest and left one woman dead, while U.S. President Donald Trump said both sides were to blame.
Horner says a connection between Charlottesville and the Canadian protests can “definitely” be made.
READ MORE: Charlottesville rally organizer tweets that victim Heather Heyer’s death was ‘payback time’
“Whatever term you use (Nazi, white supremacists, alt-right), this is a group that’s always existed. But they have felt emboldened by the victory of Donald Trump.”
While Madokoro agrees that protesters feel “emboldened” by events south of the border, she notes that Canadian protests had their own agenda and planning for the events likely pre-dated Charlottesville.
Can the protesters in Canada be classified as white supremacists?
The far-right group in Quebec City, La Meute, has tried to distance itself from the white supremacist movement, claiming members are not racist. Instead, it says it is against asylum seekers crossing the border illegally.
Horner says the group doesn’t want to be linked with the Ku Klux Klan, because they want to be more mainstream. But the professor labelled it a “marketing ploy.”
“It’s hard to draw a distinction between what they think about a brown-skinned Muslim person from the Middle East and what white supremacists think about a black person from Africa.”
Madokoro is more hesitant to say that anti-immigration protesters can be linked to white supremacists but notes that it has historically been “very difficult to separate anti-immigrant sentiment” from racism.
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Did any good news come out of the Canadian protests?
Horner says there is a silver-lining to the weekend’s events, and that is the reactions of many Canadians, including politicians.
READ MORE: Justin Trudeau condemns intolerant, racist’ rallies, urges trust in immigration system
He added that the large number of the counter-protesters in Vancouver proves that “for the most part, people are much more tolerant.”
Several politicians also voiced fierce opposition to the anti-immigrant demonstrations, which Horner said was encouraging.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the Quebec City protest by La Meute Sunday, while Premier Philippe Couillard spoke out against the violence.
Vancouver politicians, Mayor Gregor Robertson and Premier John Horgan, also openly backed the counter-protesters.
“Hate has no place in our province. We reject all forms of racism, discrimination, intolerance and bigotry,” Horgan said in a statement.
Madokoro says it’s difficult to find a silver lining because there are many underlying issues that have yet to be addressed, and protests are just “the tip of the iceberg.” But she adds that the protests have opened up dialogue, which can be a positive thing.
“These are issues we need to be talking about,” she said.
— With previous Global News files