Unexpectedly and for the first time in many years, far-right groups were able to march in Montreal. We didn’t think fascist groups could mobilize as they did, after the crushing defeats of the Pegida demos in 2015 where 4 or 5 lost aunts and uncles were countered by 500 protesters.
The day started around 11am with a gathering of far-right groups at Place Émilie-Gamelin. Defending freedom of expression was their pretext for spewing their hatred of Muslims. The rally consisted of about 150 people, with numerous flags of “La Meute” [“The Pack”, as in “wolfpack”] as well as some Quebec flags. A small group of Maoists tried to block them from the start, but the cops quickly stepped in to push them away and clear the street for the fascists.
The fascist demo arrived at City Hall around 11:30am and a counter-demo of around 400 people awaited them. Punches started flying from both sides, as the police had not yet separated the two demos. The far-right group members who wandered a bit too far certainly received a beating and were tossed to the ground. The cops then separated the two demonstrations and at that point things crystallized. The far left on one side and the far right on the other. Insults flew from both sides but without confrontation.
Nevertheless, about thirty anti-fascists spontaneously decided to skirt around the police formation. Despite efforts to gather more people to join the group that was splitting off from the demo, the majority of the anti-racist demo stayed put. It’s hard to say if the obstacle was the inertia of a large crowd waiting 45 minutes in the cold, the unwillingness of organizers to communicate the initiative, or the lack of a banner to encourage a broader movement. Regardless, only a small portion of the crowd joined the effort to block the fascists from marching. This small, mobile group soon found itself face-to-face with the members of La Meute performing security for the far-right demo. Punches flew, then glass bottles, large blocks of ice, and a garbage can rained briefly down on the fascists. The handful of anti-fascists then took the street to try to block the fascist’s march. But bike cops quickly arrived to disperse the antifas that had found themselves on the wrong side of the police line. The far-right then had free reign to continue marching while the anti-racist demo followed from behind and was pushed back by police deployments. The far-right demo dispersed at Place Émilie-Gamelin.
The day was a defeat against the far-right which succeeded in marching in Montreal. Most people arrived with the notion that things would be fairly calm, with at most twenty or so racists and nationalists at the far-right demo. We were unprepared. Fascists have become a real threat even in Montreal, though we thought the city immune to far-right demonstrations. Next time we’ll have to take the importance of antifascism much more seriously and ensure that racists can’t show up on the streets, that they’ll stay hidden behind their pathetic Facebook pages. Reflecting on Saturday, one of the few sources of consolation is that most of the crowd seemed to support physical assaults on racists and the notion of stopping them from taking the street. A culture of struggle is ingrained enough in Montreal that violence toward the far-right is accepted and we need to continue acting on this when we meet them in the street.
Some tactical reflections for future antifa demos
- When we have a crowd of 400 people, rather than trying to break riot police lines, 50 to 100 people should have positioned themselves on neighboring streets to prevent anyone from joining the far-right demo.
- We need different kinds of projectiles to throw at the fascists, whether eggs, paint bombs, rocks or fireworks. A lot of things can be useful when trying to force them to leave.
Anarchists in Montreal can no longer take the question of antifascism lightly, because the threat is real. Let’s all participate actively in this struggle which is spreading across Europe and so-called North America. Antifascism can no longer be just tied to a subculture, but must be an important part of an effective struggle to root out racism.