It hasn't been that long since the idea of Canadians guarding their border with the United States was literally satire.
In the recent months, however, real life has become much more surreal than satire so it's not that surprising that a group of Canadians turned up at a Quebec border to watch refugees attempting to make their way into the Great White North.
As first reported by the CBC, the patrol took place near Hemmingford, Quebec—on Roxham road—and was conducted by a group called Storm Alliance. Dave Tregget, the founder and national president of Storm Alliance, told VICE that the group was there to "send a message to Prime Minister Trudeau," and observe and learn from what they saw.
"We wanted to witness what was really going on there," Tregget said. "We're hearing things, media says some things, people at the border say some other things, the RCMP say other things. We wanted to see what was going on."
Tregget recently founded Storm Alliance after he and a number of other members broke off from the controversial anti-immigration group, Soldiers of Odin.
Refugees crossing from the United States into Canada has been a hot button issue in the country for some time now—the frontrunner for the Canadian Conservative Party leadership claimed he would deploy the military to deter the influx. In February, the amount of crossings rose from 99 in 2016 to 724 in 2017—in just Quebec alone—a sevenfold increase. It is expected that as the weather gets warmer the number of crossings will increase.
This is Storm Alliance's third time visiting a border. On this particular outing the group didn't bare witness to a crossing and Tregget claimed his group of about a dozen people wouldn't have done anything if they did.
"The RCMP are there way before us," said Tregget. "We're about 100 metres from the border so when they cross over, they don't even see us."
"We're not trying to intimidate anybody," he added later. "I know we're seen as that."
Storm Alliance was born out of the notorious anti-immigration group Soldiers of Odin. Since coming to Canada in late 2015, SOO, which was founded by a Finnish white supremacist named Mika Ranta, has garnered mass condemnation for its use of street patrols. Many people see these as an attempt to intimidate refugees and immigrants.
Tregget was the president of the Quebec chapter and vice-president of the entire SOO Canadian operation until recently. The Canadian chapter of Soldiers of Odin was initially founded on a burning anti-immigration and anti-Islam sentiment. In February (after Tregget had left), after six men were killed in cold blood in a Quebec City Mosque, some members of the Quebec chapter secretly cheered on the killings. Ryan Scrivens, an expert in Canadian right wing groups, said that the Soldiers of Odin tend to wrap their prejudices in nationalism to make it more palatable to the average Canadian.
"Often times what we've been finding is that [a new member] doesn't know what they're getting themselves into," Scivens told VICE in a documentary about the Soldiers of Odin. "They don't know that the Soldiers of Odin are very closely connected to well-known members of the far-right movement in Canada."
"I think that people need to well aware of what these groups are about. I think community groups in particular need to really stand their ground and work in every way shape and form against these particular groups."
Tregget denies that his group functions like the SOO. The 47-year-old said he left the group for multiple reasons, the biggest being the connection to Finland and the frequent appearance of racists in the group. When Tregget left, at the end of 2016, he was branded a "traitor" by the club. The tensions that led to Tregget's abandonment of the group have since festered and led to the SOO splintering over its members loyalty to their Finnish counterparts.
Shortly after his exit, Tregget founded Storm Alliance and was joined by other former SOO members. Tregget claims that this group focuses more on volunteerism and less on "going out and looking for trouble." He describes the group as "ultranationalistic" but not "extreme right or far right"; he frequently refers to his group as "concerned citizens."
Tregget states the group has three creeds one must follow to be a member: respect for Canadian laws, live by Canadian cultural values, and be a productive members of society by work or community volunteerism.
"We want laws to be respected and we want Canadian culture to be promoted. We're not against other cultures but this is Canada, we have a lot of cultures but we cannot have one culture that goes above all of them," said Tregget.
When pressed that what he is speaking to seems to be hinting at Sharia law, Tregget denied he was and stated that he doesn't believe Sharia law is a threat to Canada.
"It has nothing to do with Muslims. It could be Jews, it could be Jehovah's Witnesses, we can't have one culture above the others. Canadian culture is a mix of all of it, and we want to keep it that way."
RCMP Cpl. Francois Gagnon told VICE that the group was "peaceful" during its time on the border.
"We heard that there have been a little protest during the weekend, but there's not much else we can say about it," said Gagnon. "They [Storm Alliance] did not cause trouble at the border."
The patrols may be peaceful but, according to Tregget, they won't be short lived. Storm Alliance will continue to make their way to the border until they feel the prime minister addresses what they view as a problem.
"We want to send a message to Mr. Trudeau to wake up."
With files from Rachel Browne
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