Note: this story has been updated with comment from Eric Brazeau.
At first glance, Musicfest 4 Vets seemed like a pretty good thing.
The festival, whose proceeds were going to veterans, was set to take place over the July 20th weekend on some Quebec farmland just outside Ottawa. They had a great headliner, Canadian punk darling Bif Naked, and said they had several sponsors providing attendees with food and booze. The tickets ranged from $15 to $25 for a one day pass and $50 for a three-day pass. If you were a veteran you got $10 off. Nice, right?
Then people saw who was organizing the event, including its ties to the Canadian far-right, amplified it, and now the organizer said he's shutting it down.
The festival was flagged to Yellow Vests Canada Exposed (YVCE), a group that spends time analyzing the Canadian far-right. One person with YVCE, who spoke to VICE using the pseudonym Liz, said once she started looking it wasn’t long before she was down the rabbit hole.
She found out the event was organized by members with deep roots to the far-right, with Eric Brazeau, a former leader and spokesperson of the Quebec/Ontario chapter of the ultra-nationalistic group Northern Guard, working as the public face of the event. While the group claims not to be racist, Northern Guard is obsessed with immigration, demonizing Islam, and has had leadership connected to white nationalism. Brazeau himself told VICE, in 2017, that there were “too many immigrants” in the country and we can’t allow any more. Brazeau isn’t in a far-right group at the moment, but he still has ties to some in Northern Guard and others within the movement.
Brazeau told VICE that he’s canceling the event as it “snowballed” into something political he didn’t want. He said that his time with the Northern Guard was short and he hasn’t been involved with the group since leaving as most of his time and effort went towards this music festival. He said he regrets his comments from 2017 and involvement with the group. He strongly pushes back on charges of racism.
“I got caught up in a moment back then,” Brazeau told VICE. “I've been trying to, for the last two and a half years, show my kids a different way.”
“If I could do it over, I might still do it. But I wouldn't do it like that. I would stand up for my rights but not at somebody else's expense.”
The event coincided with a Canadian Combat Coalition (C3) anti-immigration rally in Ottawa. C3 is an anti-immigration group in the same vein as Northern Guard. This double booking wasn’t a coincidence as Dan Dubois, the leader of the C3, made clear when he pushed the time for the rally back to accommodate those attending both the anti-immigration rally and the Bif Naked concert.
“There were going to be hate groups and hate group adjacent in that rally and at the festival,” said Liz. “It was basically going to be an all-encompassing, ultra-nationalist, patriot group hoedown.”
To hammer home that this was no ordinary music festival, Liz told VICE, it was promoted almost exclusively in far-right spaces (Facebook and YouTube.) While you couldn’t find a radio ad or something in a local paper you could see it in a Facebook live stream hosted by a top-hat wearing Q-Anon conspiracy theorist, short Youtube videos, or shared repeatedly in a Yellow Vest Canada page. Liz said, while she didn’t know if it was intentional or not, Brazeau created the perfect environment for recruitment into far-right groups.
“If you're coinciding your event with a hate group rally, which is bringing in folks and hate groups from all around the country, and then you're topping that off with a concert which is aimed specifically within those circles,” said Liz. “I feel like it's it's a perfect environment to recruit new people and persuade those who are on the cusp of joining.”
Brazeau was adamant that the festival wasn’t meant to be a political statement and the connection to the Canadian Combat Coalition rally wasn’t something planned. As for the strange avenues of promotion he said he just wanted to “invite as many people as he could.”
In early June, Brazeau did appear on a live stream with a Duke Willis, a conspiracy vlogger, and Kevin Johnston, a notorious anti-Islam figure. During his appearance Willis outlined how you can “throw the old lady in a mini-van” and hit up both the rally and festival in one day. Other right wing figures, like two livestreamers involved with recent violence in Hamilton and Toronto between anti-fascists and the far-right, said they would be attending, both as “accredited journalists.”
Yellow Vest Canada Exposed took to Twitter and amplified what they found. They, along with a contingent of their followers, started contacting the bands billed to play and the sponsors of the event. It wasn’t long until bands started dropping out including Bif Naked.
“It was only made aware by those with keen eyes that this event was not what we were pitched to play, and we would have turned this down without a second thought had we known the history and organization and people behind this event,” Naked told VICE.
“Many of the bands, like me, have pulled out of the show. I am a person who stands with refugees, who is anti-hate, anti-fascist, anti-racist, anti-homophobia, anti-transphobia, anti-Islamaphobia, and this should be clear to all, that love wins in the end. Always.”
The Twitter and Facebook page of Musicfest 4 Vets was deleted and the next day, in a live stream with a Canadian conspiracy vlogger, a defeated sounding Brazeau said that all but six bands had dropped out after the online campaign.
Brazeau told VICE all but three bands have dropped out.
“I still have some bands and we’re trying to see what we can salvage out of this but most of my bands pulled out,” said Brazeau. “... They ran this big campaign tweeting at all every sponsor I had and all the artists that I had until everyone started dropping.”
The charity involved with Musicfest 4 Vets in 2018 prior told VICE they did not receive any money the prior year but it was due to the festival accruing debt, not any sort of malicious behavior. The spokesperson said he believed Brazeau’s heart was in the right place. Brazeau told VICE they were expecting about 1,200 people and had about $20,000 invested in this year's festival.
“It leaves it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth,” he told VICE. “... I just wanted to throw an event where everybody can come together under the banner of music.”
Liz agreed that Brazeau’s heart most likely was in the right place but the connection to the far-right wasn’t one that could be ignored. She said the goal wasn’t to get the entire festival canceled, instead, as a fan, she wanted Bif Naked to know what she had unwittingly got herself into.
“Being born in the early 80s, and loving Bif Naked in the 90s, I just thought there's absolutely no way that she would be okay with this and need to know what was really going on behind the scenes,” said Liz. “We wanted to prevent somebody from getting tied up in something unwittingly.”
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