Canadian Anti-Hate Network
As most Canadians are preparing to spend a quiet Christmas within their household bubble, anti-maskers are taking to the streets in opposition to the “cancellation of Christmas.”
On December 5, a few hundred protesters walked through Vancouver’s downtown core for the BC Christmas Freedom Rally, which featured ex-Canuck anthem singer Mark Donnelly.
Like previous demonstrations, this rally attracted the usual coalition of Qanon supporters, anti-vaxxers, and hate groups. However, in an attempt to draw a family-friendly crowd, the organizers also set up a “kids’ corner,” where children could take pictures with a man in a Santa Claus costume.
Throughout the event, many were protesters waving Trump flags to chants of “Warning, warning, warning, COVID is a scam.”
Though the rally was largely peaceful, one participant was arrested after the event for allegedly threatening someone on his way home while waiting for a bus.
Among those slated to speak was Raoul Taylor Van Haastert, the antisemitic founder of the anti-mask group No New Normal, and Tanya Gaw, the principal of Action4Canada, a socially conservative organization which denounces the “LGBTQ agenda” and so-called “political Islam,” per its website.
In her speech, Gaw warned attendees not to fall into the “political propaganda” of certain groups “who want to force everyone to take a knee to their tyranny,” stated that “all lives matter,” and said that Canadians could either live “under tyranny, or as a Christian nation.”
Raoul Taylor Van Haastert. Source: Facebook
Laura Lynn Thompson, an anti-LGBTQ+ activist who ran for the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) in the last federal election, and John Southern, a well-known Vancouver-area white nationalist, were also in attendance. Southern is infamous for his frequent doxing of anti-fascist activists, and for publishing conspiratorial, racist and transphobic content on his Youtube channel.
Similar events are now being planned across Canada, in large cities and smaller municipalities.
In Toronto, Chris Saccoccia, an anti-mask activist who was arrested in October for breaking quarantine after returning from Europe, has long been alluding to his intention of holding an anti-mask Santa parade. He recently held a used toy drive in partnership with NobleToyz, a store in Bolton, Ontario, with the intent of distributing the donated toys to children attending his parade.
Saccoccia, who also goes by Chris Sky, presents himself as an advocate for small businesses, but maintains close ties with hateful individuals. In October, we reported that he had appeared on Plaid Army, an antisemitic livestream hosted by Jeremy Mackenzie and Derek Harrison.
More recently, Saccoccia endorsed racist theories about IQ testing as part of an Islamophobic Twitter rant.
It was unclear at first whether this anti-mask Santa parade would even take place. Though a since-deleted Facebook page for the event initially claimed it would be held on December 5, a website associated with Saccoccia mentioned two different dates. However, early this week, Saccocia confirmed the parade would be happening on Sunday, December 20, through an Instagram story post.
Organized by Mothers Against Distancing, The Line Canada, and Hugs Over Mask, the event’s description deplores the City of Toronto’s decision to cancel the annual Christmas parade for “an emergency that doesn’t exist,” and calls asks volunteers to put their name forward and help with the festivities.
Despite a surge in COVID cases in the city, the organizers are inviting children and families to come out, with or without masks.
In Québec, Premier Legault’s decision to backtrack his proposal to allow small gatherings for Christmas disappointed many Québécois who were hoping to spend time with their loved ones. Capitalizing on the public’s disappointment, the hate peddlers and conspiracy theorists who form Québec’s anti-mask movement have been organizing illegal celebrations and encouraging others to follow their example.
On December 5, about a dozen people gathered in the home of Steeve Charland, an ex-high-ranking member of the Islamophobic group La Meute, who is now one of Québec’s most infamous anti-maskers.
Charland left La Meute in 2019 amidst rumours of infighting. He has long denied holding racist beliefs, but in a book published in 2014, he expressed his hatred for the “proud and greedy race which creates a carnage in the name of peace … and fills our cities with racial diversity without consideration for social harmony.”
It is unclear to which ethnic group Charland refers to in this passage, but much of his activism has been dedicated to opposing the arrival of Muslim asylum seekers in Québec.
Charland’s written work remains available for purchase on the website of major retailers like Renaud-Bray.
Partaking in the festivities were several other figures linked to the province’s conspiracy theory sphere, like Daniel Pilon, a past candidate of the far-right Citoyens au Pouvoir political party. In a video published by one of the guests, partygoers joined together in a “Fuck you Legault” chant.
Two days later, during a radio interview, Charland stated that "it was high time citizens rose up and expressed their discontent," and that his event was meant to provoke a “social debate.”
“A short message to our dear Premier François Legault.” Source: Facebook
His stunt was successful in attracting the attention of several larger media outlets, many of which overlooked his ties to organized hate.
Another fixture of Québec’s anti-mask movement, Mel Goyer, is planning a “mega-rally” on December 20th in opposition to Premier Legault’s decision to ban Christmas gatherings in Montréal. Titled "Esprits libres en marche" (Free Spirits Walking), the official Facebook page for the event currently shows that several thousand people could be in attendance.
Goyer, who is a wellness coach, is a self-described conspiracist with ties to Qanon. In an interview filmed in August, she described Qanon as a "source of alternative news." In a tweet published on November 18, she expressed her pride in the number of “digital soldiers” she sees fighting back against the ‘merdias’ (a play on word with the words shit and media in French). Digital soldiers is a term sometimes used by supporters of Qanon to refer to one another.
She currently sits on the board of the Fondation pour la protection des libertés citoyennes (Foundation for the protection of civil liberties). The foundation, which is led by the leader of a party with extensive ties to hate groups, is currently suing the Québec government in an attempt to overturn public health restrictions.
Dave Leduc, a very popular world-champion in Burmese boxing with over two million followers on social media, is slated to be the main speaker of the rally, though other public personalities, like actress Lucie Laurier, have confirmed they will be present.
It remains to be seen whether these “celebrity“ guests will successfully attract a large crowd. It would not be the first time an anti-mask rally in Québec makes waves online that do not translate to real-life mobilization.
Follow Sébastien Roback on Twitter @sebroback.