Opposing groups organized rallies near the Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle border in Quebec Saturday afternoon, where thousands of asylum seekers have steadily been entering the country at an illegal crossing on Roxham Road in Hemmingford.
Members of Storm Alliance, a group whose self-described mission is to “preserve the rights of the people and Canadian culture,” gathered to demonstrate against Canada’s immigration policies, while counter-protesters were calling for open borders and end to racism by “far-right” groups.
Storm Alliance is critical of the federal governments’ handling of the influx of asylum seekers, referring to the situation as illegal immigration.
The group is also calling on the federal government to reimburse Quebec for the costs associated with handling the high number of refugee claimants.
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In a video posted to it’s Facebook page, spokesperson Eric Trudel alleges the government is spending too much money “inviting people who don’t need help,” rather than tending to the needs of Quebecers.
Pro-refugee groups briefly blocked Highway 15 in a bid to stop the arrival of anti-immigrant protesters.
Sûreté du Québec (SQ) officers closed the highway in the northbound direction, citing the presence of pedestrians on the roadway.
The gathering was declared illegal and the group was ordered to disperse.
SQ spokesperson, Ingrid Asselin, said that one man was arrested, but would not confirm it was activist Jaggi Singh.
Police erected a barrier to keep the opposing groups apart.
“Racists are not welcome and that we want Canada and Quebec to be an open society for these migrants coming across,” said Solidarity Across Borders member Aaron Lakoff.
Lakoff says the influx of refugees has been a result of the “racist policies” in the United States, and Canada should not follow in their footsteps.
“The question that we pose to Canadians is do we want to be a welcoming and open society, or do we want to be the society that Trump is creating in the United States,” said Lakoff. “And for us, that choice is very clear, we have to be a open and welcoming society.”
While the protest was scheduled for 1 p.m., anti-immigration groups arrived more than an hour later.
The RCMP says some 7,300 asylum seekers have crossed the border between January and April at a popular irregular crossing a few kilometres from Lacolle.
Last year, some 19,000 people crossed the border into Quebec to claim refugee status.
— With files from The Canadian Press.