In The Wake Of Quebec's Mosque Shooting, Fears Of Surging Far-Right Extremism

Feb 8, 2017

Quebec's far-right groups may not have played a direct role in a mosque shooting late last month, but some worry that extremist language is heating up and may be pushing some people to action.

On Jan. 29, a man walked into a mosque in Quebec City and started shooting. He killed six people and wounded many others. Police have charged 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette with murder and attempted murder, and officials are calling it an act of terror.

Bissonnette is not known to be affiliated with any particular extremist group, but a look at the climate of extremism and hate speech in Quebec City and beyond shows a worrying increase in volatile language – and some are concerned that this is now an ecosystem that can breed violent extremists such as this alleged shooter.

Stéphane Leman-Langlois, a Laval University sociologist and an expert on Quebec's far-right, spoke to Vermont Edition on Tuesday about radicalization and extremism in Quebec.

Leman-Langlois reiterates that there isn't evidence at this time to suggest that Bissonnette was actively involved with an extremist group. Still, there are questions arising about how hate speech and extremism in Quebec may have contributed to an atmosphere where a person with these beliefs and this hatred was allowed to flourish.

"There's hardly any other minority, either immigrant or long-term minority, in Canada that gets the finger pointed at them as much as the Muslim minority in Canada and in Quebec," he says.

Leman-Langlois observes that this "finger-pointing" at Muslims has been increasing over the last five years or so.

"There's hardly any other minority, either immigrant or long-term minority, in Canada that gets the finger pointed at them as much as the Muslim minority in Canada and in Quebec." - Stéphane Leman-Langlois, Laval University sociologist

"There seems to be a desire to hear more about how Muslims are a threat to society," he says, adding that some radio stations also have been known to air that kind of sentiment.

What is happening in the climate, Leman-Langlois explains, is that all members of the Muslim community get grouped together as one entity – so simply being a Muslim means you get associated with having radical ideology or violence.

"The language now is to present ... all Muslims – or Islam in general – as fundamentally incompatible with Western values and/or Quebec values, which are sort of one and the same in the mind of the people pointing the fingers," he says.

Traditionally, Quebec separatists – those who advocate that Quebec secede from Canada – were considered to be on the left politically, but Leman-Langlois says there are separatists who hold white nationalist views who fall to the extreme right.

Simultaneously on the right, Leman-Langlois says, there are white nationalists who also believe in Canadian federalism. He adds the two sects don't really get along.

"The extreme right in Quebec is split pretty much down the middle between these two main camps," Leman-Langlois explains.

"I'm worried about the new level of dissemination of the extreme right language – the finger-pointing, the minority-bashing that becomes more and more mainstream."

Besides the mosque shooting last month, Leman-Langlois says there haven't been many acts of violence from the extreme right, though he does point out that there have been other instances of anti-Muslim activity, such as vandalizing mosques. 

While Leman-Langlois says he doesn't suspect there will be a surge in explicitly violent attacks going forward, he says it's "the low-level incidents" that nonetheless create an intolerable atmosphere for Muslims, and he thinks those will become more common.

"I'm worried about the new level of dissemination of the extreme right languagethe finger-pointing, the minority-bashing that becomes more and more mainstream," Leman-Langlois says.

Listen to the full interview from Vermont Edition above.