A fringe Facebook group—run by a far-right activist whose protests have attracted conspiracy theorists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis—featured three current Conservative MPs and a sitting Tory senator among it members.
While the three MPs appear to be unwitting members of the group, Conservative Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu was happy to join the conversation.
The Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens, or C4, is a relatively new organization. It burst on the scene early in 2017 by organizing a rallies across the country to protest M-103, a motion condemning Islamophobia and religious discrimination. Since then, it has attempted to hold a slew of rallies across Canada, with a smattering of attendees, including one on Parliament Hill protesting a United Nations migration compact.
C4’s work has largely been carried out by one man, Georges Hallak, and relies on Facebook to get the message out. The public page, which has a nondescript profile picture and a banner image of Hallak being interviewed at one of his rallies, boasts 10,000 likes.
The C4 private group, of nearly 4,000 more engaged followers, is more revealing.
The banner image for the private group features prime minister Justin Trudeau in a burqa, contrasted with President Donald Trump at a podium, reading: “Is Justin Trudeau a traitor?”
The members list for that private group features VIPs: Conservative Members of Parliament Dean Allison, Ed Fast, and Blaine Calkins, and Tory Senator Boisvenu. All four men used their personal pages to join the group, and joined between the summer of 2017 and winter of 2019.
The offices for Allison, Fast, and Calkins responded quickly to a request for comment from VICE, confirming that they did not willfully join the page.
“Mr. Allison was unaware that his account was added to this page,” his office told VICE. “He also doesn’t know the group’s founder or anything about the group…He’s not a regular social media user.” He quit the group after VICE’s email.
Calkins’ office said their boss was similarly “unaware of the group until you brought it to our attention,” highlighting that he’s frequently added to groups without his knowledge. “Since becoming aware that he was added to the group, he has left it.”
Fast himself called VICE to say that he hadn’t intentionally joined the group, and would be leaving it. While he does recall seeing content from the group in his news feed, he iterated that he never interacted with or shared any posts from the group.
“I’m going to find out from my social media folks how do I get out of this group, because I’ve no connection to it,” Fast told VICE. He said the only social media group he willfully joined was a community group of cottage-owners.
It is relatively easy to add Facebook friends to a group without their consent—a fact that seemed to boggle the minds of the MPs involved—and the MPs seem relatively indiscriminate in terms of who they’ve added as friends on the social media platform. But while the MPs were not active at all in the group, the senator posted on two occasions over the years.
Last summer, as runner-up Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier sharply criticized leader Andrew Scheer from within his own party, Boisvenu commented on a news story: “Time to kick renegade Tory MP Maxime Bernier out of caucus, Liberal MP urges,” the headline read.
“What would he say if we demanded to boot Trudeau from his caucus?” Boisvenu wrote in French. He was appointed to the Senate by then-prime minister Stephen Harper in 2010, and remains active in the Conservative Party.
This week, Boisvenu commented on another story in the group—an NBC report about Trudeau’s visit to a gay bar in Vancouver’s Davie Village.
“Always a show,” the senator commented.
The senator’s comment may not have been particularly offensive, but others in the thread were. “He makes me sick,” wrote one poster. “Deviant!!” wrote another. One posted a rainbow flag emoji and “total fag.” Others were violently graphic towards the prime minister.
This isn’t the fringe only group Boisvenu is a member of. He is also listed amongst the 100,000-plus members of Yellow Vests Canada, where he has commented on five different posts in the past year. That group has already drawn the attention of Facebook due to its volume of threats against the prime minister.
Boisvenu did not respond to requests for comment.
Even if the politicians were unwitting members of the C4 group, it highlights a pretty effective strategy by owners of these far-right pages. By adding scores of people without their consent, agitators like Hallak can pump their propaganda into the individual users’ Facebook feeds.
“I do get postings from this group from time-to-time,” Fast told VICE.
The far-right has always been effective at proselytizing to the masses, using their media campaigns to win over unsuspecting supporters. Neo-Nazi groups have spammed fax machines with anti-Semitic flyers; a hate rag masquarading as a community newspaper filtered through to Toronto mailboxes for years before its published was convicted of hate speech; and Islamophobes have used video game message boards and chat rooms to diseminate the unhinged beliefs of the Christchurch shooter. Roping in politicians on Facebook without their knowledge seems like an extension of that missionary work.
Hallak and others post dozens of times a day, peddling in a wide array of conspiracy theory, with one crude meme warning “the Trudeau government is a globalist dictatorship” and links to organizations such as Immigration Watch Canada and the National Citizens Alliance, both organizations known their dogged white nationalists stances.
On his personal Facebook page, Hallak has posted endorsements of far-right Toronto mayoral candidate Faith Goldy and posts referring to the entire religion of Islam as “evil.” His personal Facebook page displays a MAGA-style hat promising “Trudeau for prison” and a crude cartoon, from far-right Reddit page MetaCanada, which suggests the prime minister is welcoming Islamic State terrorists.
C4’s real-life events have attracted a variety of unsavoury figures. Security for its Ottawa event in December was provided by anti-immigration pseudo-militia La Meute, while one of its official speakers was Rasmus Paludan, leader of Danish party Stram Kurs, which pledged to deport all immigrants from the country.
The page itself isn’t committedly in favour of the Conservative Party, with many members openly supporting Bernier’s People’s Party.
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