A protest by Storm Alliance, a Quebec-based group that describes itself as "ultra-nationalistic," temporarily shut down a portion of the Canadian-American border on Saturday afternoon.
The gathering saw a few hundred Storm Alliance members and supporters, which included members of the far-right group La Meute, show up to denounce illegal immigration and the policies of Prime Minister Trudeau. The crew of several hundred were met by around 100 counter protesters brought in by buses by Solidarity Across Borders.
The groups converged just outside of the small Quebec town Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle. Several hundred of kilometres away a similar protest was taking place in downtown Ottawa.
The Quebec town has come into the spotlight in recent months for a wave of unsanctioned border crossings near Roxham Road. Here is where tens of thousands of refugees have made their way from the United States in the last year—over 5,000 crossed in August alone. In response to the influx of border crossers, which has slowed as of late, Canada has set up a makeshift refugee camp.
Storm Alliance headed for the partially dismantled camp, which still temporarily houses refugees from America—however, they were blocked from ever arriving there by the counter protesters. Simon Coutu, a VICE Quebec reporter, was at the protests and spoke with members on both sides. At the rally, Dave Tregget, the founder and leader of Storm Alliance, said that the sizable group wanted to make an impression with their protest and that they weren't going to hesitate to defend themselves if things got intense.
"It is a symbolic and highly publicized event," Tregget said in French. "We are here to denounce the Liberal government, but it certainly has a link with immigration."
Much like what is seen at the US-Mexico border, some in Canada believe that those crossing the border are "illegal immigrants." In the last year or so, as the crossings have sped up, become politicized, and covered more by media, a movement against these crossers has rapidly grown. The movement has sprouted arm-and-arm with one that believes Sharia law is coming to Canada in the form of refugees and a small but growing Muslim population.
In a response to the protest, Canada's border service announced on Twitter that the crossing was closed. The closure lasted for about five hours and was reopened shortly before 4 PM EST. So, in the end, the rally against illegal immigration ironically shut down a very real border.
A large contingent of police, some decked out in riot gear, separated the two groups for the duration of the protest which wrapped up in the mid-afternoon. Cora Lemonyne, one of the people on the counter-protest side of the dueling rallies, believes that the counter protesting against groups like this is a necessary action and that Storm Alliance's loud denouncement of racism and the extreme-right is simple PR spin.
"They're making signs of peace, but on social networks, they've been making threats for months and they're violent," said the veiled woman, a long-time anti-fascist. "They have Islamophobic, racist, homophobic and transphobic statements. I am here to remind them that freedom of speech and hate speech are not the same thing."
The "security" provided by Storm Alliance confronted anti-fascist protesters directly by showing up in white masks. The masks mimicked an often-criticized tactic of Antifa organizers to wear black masks to cover their faces.
"We thought we were going to send a message to the left that it is not pleasant to show up and hide," Tregget said. "We also want the authorities to understand the message that if we hide the whole gang, they will not appreciate it."
Tregget said his team was not afraid to use force if provoked. "Security is here to support the work of the police. We do not want to hurt anyone. But we will defend ourselves if the Antifas attack us. We want to unmask them. We have people here who will document the counter-demonstrators and we will hand the information over to the police."
This isn't the first excursion that Storm Alliance made to the Roxham Road border crossing. Earlier in the year, the group began making their way to the location in an effort to "observe" the crossing. VICE spoke to Dave Tregget, the founder of Storm Alliance, at the time of their initial visits and were told that the group just "wanted to see what was going on."
The rally was a strong showing by Storm Alliance, a group not even a year old. The organization was born out of the recently splintered Soldiers of Odin group. The Soldiers of Odin are a far right group founded in Finland by a self-described white supremacist named Mika Ranta. The group came to Canada and set up chapters across the country in late 2015. However, as is typical in groups such as this, in-fighting arrived just quick as the group.
Tregget's group was born out of that infighting. The former leader of the Quebec chapter of the Soldiers of Odin, believing the group had become too racist for his taste and sick of the constant comparison to the Finnish group, left in late 2016. From there he was branded a traitor by the group and, with other people who departed from SOO, Tregget founded Storm Alliance. He disagrees with the term far-right being used a descriptor for his group, telling VICE in May that he preferred the term "ultra-nationalistic."
"I want to block access to the Storm Alliance," said one masked Antifa demonstrator who wanted to remain anonymous. "There can be no opposition without confrontation, our ideologies are too different."
"We oppose the principle of closed borders," the protester added. "We want to allow more people to take refuge here to protect themselves from all the oppressions that exist in the world."
One of the people who attended the protest on the side of Storm Alliance was Shawn Beauvais-Macdonald, a former member of La Muerte who suspended after attending the deadly rally in Charlottesville earlier in the year.
"I don't believe in the rhetoric that globalization is good for anyone," said Beauvais-Macdonald when asked about why he was at the rally. "These people are acting like they're fighting the system but they're doing exactly what the system wants—just letting endless hordes of people in without checks."
Beauvais-Macdonald attended the rally with a helmet, something, again, typical of protests in the United States where clashes between anti-racists and the far-right have become routine. However, despite the appearances, Beauvais-Macdonald stated he was not there for confrontation.
"They [Antifa] feel that the philosophies that we're putting forward are violence in themselves, so that's how they justify using violence against us. I'm just ready to protect my brain and my eyes and what else and if someone comes into my personal space to hurt me, I will hurt them."
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.