For a long time, Canada has been known as a left-wing bastion resistant to the siren song of the far-right.
Even when we had a decade of rule by a Conservative government Canada was viewed as this wonderful, albeit cold, land of tolerance. Now, if you live in Canada, you'll know that's not exactly the case (nor was it ever). Nothing showcases this more than the recent wave of anti-Islamism, which now sees protest rallies against an entire religion popping up on a weekly basis.
It's always the same—in one of the province's major cities a group has shown up to preach to the crowd in regards to the threat that the Muslim community poses to Canada either by radical Islamic terrorism, creeping Sharia, M-103, or what have you. While the catalyst for the rally may change, the focus remains consistent—pure, unadulterated anti-Islamism that has been born out of a fear of Islamic terrorism or hatred of the other.
Time and time again the group of counter-protestors show up and the two get into it while the police watch over the entire operation. More often than not the rallies are peaceful, although, the record is far from perfect. There are a couple things you'll always see at these rallies: the Canadian anthem, heated arguments, one side calling the other "libtards" or "snowflakes" and getting responses of "Nazi" and, oddly enough, somebody live-streaming himself handing out Pepsi to protesters in a weak attempt to go viral.
These groups have been organizing rallies like this for several years now, however, the frequency at which they're being held and the public support behind them has increased exponentially. Unless you're under a rock you know about these events and probably have a feeling one way or another about them. The thing you probably don't know though is who is putting them on. Well, the answer is several prominent groups Canada-wide.
While the following group's numbers may look large it must be noted that there is immense crossover within them. In general, members of one group will more than likely be involved in more than one or, in some cases, all of these groups. It's also important to recognize that this movement is fluid—it is one plagued by infighting and power struggles which causes these groups to dissolve, split, change names, swap leadership, and merge at a high frequency. These rallies, more often than not, tend to be group efforts which is par for the course in an incestuous movement such as this.
Social media outlets, mainly Facebook, are these groups' best friend as almost all recruitment, discussion, and organizing exists there. Groups that are stoking anti-Islam sentiment are abundant in Canada, but for this list we will only be looking at the major players in regards to the rallies—if you're looking for a guide to several more anti-Islam groups in Canada, Now Toronto has put one together.
If the crew has a power player, this is it. Simply put, Sandra Solomon is the closest thing that Canada's anti-Islam ecosystem has to a celebrity. No one, in the recent months, is even remotely responsible for as many rallies as Solomon. The woman just toured the country with her Voice Of Sandra Solomon Canadian Tour, during which she put on rally after rally and inspired others to do the same. Odds are, if you heard of a rally within the last few months it was either organized by Solomon and her people or she was a primary speaker. Utilizing live streaming and prolific Facebook posts Solomon has turned herself into the closest thing this movement has to a face.
Solomon portrays herself as a human rights activist standing against Sharia Law—her rallies are typically built around stopping "creeping Sharia" within Canada. An apostate Muslim, Solomon's speeches will typically see her speaking about the abuses she suffered when growing up in Saudi Arabia, donning a burqa before tearing it off, and chants of "Islam is Evil." Her crowdfunded Canada-wide tour took place from May to June and wrapped in many other smaller groups who took part in the rallies. Solomon has been linked to both RISE Canada and Never Again Canada—both Canadian Zionist organizations which were central in organizing the anti-M103 rallies and protests against Masjid Toronto Mosque—along with the Canadian Hindu Advocacy group who are responsible for the intense protests seen at a Toronto-area school board where a Quran torn to shreds. Few in this movement—who don't work in media—have done more than Solomon to advance this cause in Canada.
The big dog in Canada—and the world—just its name on a banner will start counter protests. The group was initially founded in 2014 Germany. In German, the acronym means Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West. Worldwide the group has been plagued with controversy—the initial founder had to resign after pretending to be Hitler and making racial remarks online. While the group isn't as strong in Canada as it is in other countries, it has worked hard to garner itself reputation by holding some of the first anti-Islam rallies in 2015. They describe themselves thusly: "Pegida Canada is a group of like minded Canadians that are bringing awareness to the people in regards to threats to our great country. We want to preserve our culture."
In Canada, this is one of the premier groups behind many of the memes you'll see shared by old acquaintances from high school or family members you don't care for on Facebook. They boast an online membership of 27,000 and are growing steadily, however, as of late that hasn't been translating into real world activities. The the group attempts to organize rallies on a frequent basis but turnout has been low.
WCAI is one of the upstarts in Canada that has actually experienced moderate success in making the jump from online bitching to real-world activity. WCAI stands for World Coalition Against Islam, the group is one of the younger of the three and has a following of about 12,000 online. The group was integral in spreading the now debunked story of Syrian teenagers assaulting their classmates and organized a protest outside of high school in Red Deer.
On June 25, the group planned their "Patriotic Unity Mega Festival 2017" in Calgary which garnered the group considerable controversy. Those behind it declared there would be live music and a pig roast at the event—neither of which transpired. The group was denied a permit, forcing them to change the date and location. The rally—meant to be WCAI's shining moment—turned out to be sparsely attended and those in attendance were outnumbered by counter-protestors.
In the end, the rally can only be described as a failure. This seems to be typical of the group as they operate in a fast and loose manner. WCAI doesn't boast strong leadership but what they lose in the sloppiness they make up for the in the raw audacity of what they are willing to say.
Special consideration: Rebel Media
While Canada's answer to Infowars is not shy about stoking xenophobia in the country, they haven't yet gotten to the point of holding an out-and-out anti-Islam rally. However, they have gotten as close as one can get by holding an anti-M103 rally which can be best described as an anti-anti-Islamophobia rally.
There are also groups that don't necessarily organize the rallies but will facilitate them by either providing "security" or showing up en mass to support. Within this category, you will find the Soldiers of Odin, the III% and other small pop-up groups like the Canadian Combat Coalition.
These groups are just as prone to chaos as the above groups. Soldiers of Odin has fractured over allegiance to the initial founders in Finland and by all indications their influence seems to be waning within Canada. With the splintering of the group comes many offshoots like the Storm Alliance who recently started attending border crossing to observe. When the group shows up to rallies more often than not they are there to just look scary and where their leathers but they have scuffled with protesters in the past.
The new kids on the block, the III%, are only really prominent in Alberta—they exist in other provinces but have a hard time organizing and their number of active members (not online members) will rarely, if ever, be higher than a dozen. In Ontario though, III% members got into it with a journalist named Kevin Metcalf which resulted in assault charges being laid. In Alberta, their active members number in the low end of the hundreds and they are not scared of making a show of force.
This anti-Islam sentiment is sweeping the country and what was once a vocal but tiny minority is only gaining voices and decibels. Small groups have exploded in absurdly quick fashion and they're not scared of letting the public know. A harsh truth is that these rallies aren't going away, therefore, at least for now, it's important to know who is steering the reigns of this chaos.
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.