Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is being criticized by activists for his enthusiastic embrace of a controversial pro-pipeline convoy on Parliament Hill and ignoring its racist and anti-immigrant elements, and speaking at the same event as a white nationalist.
United We Roll arrived in Ottawa on Tuesday for two days of rallies, making a cross-country trip from Red Deer, Alberta, to protest the Liberal government’s energy policies. From the start, however, the convoy, which was originally called the Yellow Vest Convoy, has been marred by allegations of racism.
“NO to UN/globalist, carbon tax, tanker ban, dirty foreign oil, open borders,” said a sign on one convoy truck, which also called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be charged with treason.
Evan Balgord, director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, has been tracking the group’s activities and expressed frustration with how the convoy’s more extreme elements have been overlooked by politicians and in media coverage.
“How many examples do I have to provide of overt racism and death threats?” he told VICE. “How many examples do I have to provide of the organizers of the goddamn convoy expressing support for hate groups before people will get it?”
Several of the organizers have expressed support online for anti-Muslim hate groups, like Soldiers of Odin, the 3-percenters, and several others, Balgord told VICE, adding that the head of the Canadian Combat Coalition, an anti-Muslim hate group, was welcomed as part of the convoy, and that many of the protesters were wearing yellow vests.
Yellow Vest Canada, inspired by the French movement of the same name but bearing little resemblance in terms of substance, now has over 110,000 members on Facebook, and has become notorious for hateful rhetoric about immigrants, and especially Muslims.
United We Roll lead organizer Glen Carritt said the protesters want the Liberal government to scrap the carbon tax and that they oppose federal legislation that would overhaul the environmental assessment process for energy projects, but supporters have also spoken out against Canada signing on to a non-binding UN resolution on global migration.
Scheer, whose party was opposed to signing on to the resolution and argued that Canada was compromising its national sovereignty by letting the UN dictate the country’s immigration system, gave a brief speech, addressing only the convoy’s pro-pipeline message, and posed for photos with the protesters.
“It is time Canada has a prime minister who is proud of our energy sector ... that fights for it and fights to get you back to work,” said Scheer.
He promised to eliminate the carbon tax and Bill C-69, which deals with environmental assessments.
Scheer spoke at the same event as People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier and former Rebel Media commentator Faith Goldy, who also took turns speaking at different points on Tuesday.
“You’re not asking for handouts, you’re not asking for any privileges, you’re just asking for being sure that this country will be able to build pipelines,” Bernier told the crowd on Tuesday. “That’s important not only for you, that’s important for all Canadians.”
Meanwhile Goldy, speaking briefly from the back of a truck, before being booed off and called “Nazi scum” by Indigenous counter-protesters, told them, “If you don’t like our country, leave it.”
Carritt had originally called his group the “Yellow Vest Convoy,’ but rebranded it as United We Roll to distance the movement from extreme anti-immigrant views that were associated with Yellow Vest Canada. But on Wednesday, he put on a yellow vest, although he insisted he was “still the same guy.”
Balgord is skeptical that Scheer doesn’t know of the more extreme anti-immigrant messages coming out of the convoy. Scheer’s office did not respond to a request for comment from VICE.
“Your [political leader] doesn’t endorse a thing without a staffer looking at it. If they looked at this movement for even 10 minutes on social media, they would’ve found a death threat directed towards Trudeau, they would’ve found examples of overt racism,” said Balgord. “It’s that prevalent.”
Balgord went on to urge Scheer and Bernier to issue an apologies, warning that dog whistle politics prompt more activity and propaganda from hate groups, which could ultimately radicalize someone like Alexandre Bissonnette, who shot and killed 6 Muslim men at a Quebec City mosque in 2016.
Others say Scheer is in a tough spot politically, with Bernier threatening to tip the balance in some ridings in favour of the Liberals even though he is currently hovering around 2 percent in the polls.
“Scheer is in a difficult position because he needs to prevent more Conservative voters from moving to the [Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada], but he needs to remain the leader of a mainstream political party that supports immigration because there’s a strong political consensus in Canada around immigration, so it’s a fine line to draw here,” said McGill University political science professor Daniel Beland.
“I think Scheer is supporting this convoy because he wants to show that he supports the oil and gas industry in Western Canada because it’s a strong part of its base, but at the same time there’s always the danger here that he might go a bit too far because some people are supporting oil and gas are also Yellow Vesters, who are anti-immigration, who even could be tied to white supremacists, and people who are so far to the right of the political spectrum that they’re toxic.”
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Editor's note: This story has been updated to make clear Andrew Scheer and Faith Goldy shared the same crowd, not the same stage.