M-103 to the Pandemic: Evolution Of Canadian Islamophobic Activists Shows How Hate Movements Adapt

You can draw a straight line from Islamophobic demonstrations to Yellow Vests Canada and the COVID conspiracy movement. ACT! For Canada and Action4Canada are a case study in how the far-right adopts and packages new grievances to recruit support.

Peter Smith and Elizabeth Simons 
Canadian Anti-Hate Network



Protests held in the wake of the M103 controversy (left) and a Toronto COVID-Conspiracy demonstration (right). Source: Canadian Anti-Hate Network


M-103 was a non-binding motion brought before the house of commons in 2017. Controversial from the outset among the political far-right, it asked the members of parliament to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.” The backlash and accusations faced by not only the government but also the motion’s architect, Member of Parliament Iqra Khalid, were significant and often openly racist. 

A collective of anti-Muslim groups started pushing a narrative of encroaching “Sharia Law,” the importation of “terrorists,” and a flood of other baseless and incendiary rhetoric that became an unfortunately regular part of the discourse. They took to the streets across Canada. They were often blatant in their hatred for Muslims, and Islam. At times they mistook people to be Muslim, based only on their skin colour, and hurled invectives at them. 

At the same time the more polished critics of M-103 dealt in Islamophobic dog-whistles, suggesting that M-103 would criminalize criticisms of Islam or Islamist terror. They held conferences instead of protests.

M-103 became a mainstream issue, the subject of political debate, and even an issue of contention in the Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership race.

Amid this fracas, ACT! For Canada (ACT) managed to emerge as one of several organizers against the motion. Founded around 2009 and officially registered with the federal government in 2014, ACT is modelled after the anti-Muslim hate group ACT! For America. 

ACT! For Canada republished and shared anti-Muslim conspiracies that would be widely shared and re-shared by street-level anti-Muslim groups. Not only a vector in Islamophobic propaganda, they would also act as a convenor for more genteel figures.

While the bad-faith debate around M-103 and anti-Muslim conspiracies first brought ACT to the foreground, it would go on to follow the broader trends of the far-right movement as it incorporated more anti-2SLGBTQ+, and especially anti-trans, rhetoric, promoted the Yellow Vests Canada movement, and jumped on the COVID conspiracy train.

But in the aftermath of M-103, both the far-right and ACT went into a slump. They were waiting for a new rallying cry. ACT continued in a diminished capacity. Pushed on by its founder Valerie Price, what started with ACT! For Canada and would eventually spawn Action4Canada (A4C) with another activist, Tanya Gaw, in late 2019

Valerie Price declined to provide comment on the subject of this article while Tanya Gaw did not respond to our request.

This pivot to an almost identical organization (with an almost identical name) demonstrates the trajectory some organizations chart to remain relevant. ACT is without a doubt still virulently opposed to Muslim people and any expressions of the Islamic faith in the country -- despite their claims to the contrary -- and like many other organizers that have shown a similar longevity, remaining relevant has included adapting to changing points of interest. 

 

Pre M-103

  

Built around preserving the “culture, sovereignty, and security,” of the United States, ACT! For America pushes “wild anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, denigrates American Muslims and deliberately conflates mainstream and radical Islam,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, who designated ACT! For America as an Islamophobic organization in 2015.

The American iteration claims to have been “founded the morning after 9/11,” while Canada’s ACT first appears on the Internet Archive in 2012, claims on the site say it was founded two years prior, boasting 600 members. The stated mission at the time was to use “civic action, to promote and secure public policies that protect Canada’s national security and defend Canadian democratic values against any and all threats posed by Islamism.” 

With a narrow focus on Islam, no theory or claim seems too wild or unfounded for the site -- a continuing trend. Articles include talk of an Iranian “electromagnetic pulse” weapon, fears over electoral politics after the Arab Spring, and any news around the latest terror suspects arrested by authorities. The website states their mission as being to help the public understand terms like “stealth jihad, Islamic terrorism, the Taliban, the PLO, insurgents, al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Muslim extremists, and Islamofascism.”

To accomplish this, ACT hosted or promoted a number of speaking events that included public figures critical of Islam. Sometimes organizing with the Jewish Defence League, another Islamophobic hate group, speakers included Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, an “anti-Sharia activist” convicted of hate speech in Austria. Other events have included blogger and Islamophobic hate website Jihad Watch founder Robert Spencer, Jamie Glazov, and more, all strikingly similar in their attempts to platform and legitimize Islamophobic sentiment and racism under the guise of security concerns and “free speech.”

By the time the group was officially filed with Corporations Canada as a not-for-profit in 2014, ACT! For Canada listed three members as executives: Henry Price, Alan Grant, and Valerie Thomas. Thomas, now Valerie Price, remains the current executive director. 

In 2015, the ACT! For Canada Facebook page was started. Still active today, it shares not only content published on the group’s website, but also from a series of other dubious sources. This has included links to articles from the Council of European Canadians -- the pet project of disgraced white nationalist and former University of New Brunswick professor Ricardo Duchesne -- and other noted Islamophobic groups like the Clarion Project -- a producer of web and video content to educate the public on “radical Islam and other extremist ideologies.”

  

Motion Against Islamophobia 

   

The introduction of M-103, a motion against “systemic racism and religious discrimination” would ignite a firestorm of punditry and mobilization almost as soon as it was tabled in December 2016. It was seen by ACT as confirmation of Sharia law encroaching on “Canadian values.” 

A leadership race taking place within the Conservative Party managed to make what would have been a simple motion into a contentious topic. Despite numerous similar motions previously being passed about other religious groups, then Member of Parliament for Simcoe-Grey, Kellie Leitch, wrote “We should treat all religions equally. I am opposed to [M-103]. No religion should enjoy special privileges.” Leitch is perhaps best known for advocating for a racist and Islamophobic “barbaric cultural practices hotline,” targeting Muslims.  

Among 14 leadership candidates in the running, including Erin O’Toole and Maxime Bernier, only Michael Chong said he would stand in support of M-103 at the time.

In response to the motion, ACT wrote that it, “if passed, will enact Islamic blasphemy laws in Canada creating a defacto Sharia compliant state on the northern border of the United States. In order to push this vote forward, Trudeau has diabolically employed psychological warfare tactics created by the Muslim Brotherhood, and has smeared the entire Canadian population with the lie that they are Islamophobic,” echoing a linked article posted on Islamophobic blogger Pamela Geller’s website.

ACT also specifically took aim at Iqra Khalid, the member who put forth the motion, saying she “appears to be intimately connected with the Muslim brotherhood.” Adding that, “One may argue that Islamophobia is no different than anti-Semitism or racial prejudice such as hatred of Blacks. However, it is linked to an Islamic agenda and to terror organizations” and accusing her of undermining Canada’s policy in the middle east.

The centring of the issue in national politics lent legitimacy to the arguments made by groups like ACT. Later in the year, Rebel Media hosted a rally dedicated to countering the motion. A handful of the CPC leadership hopefuls were in attendance, giving speeches alongside then-Rebel personality Faith Goldy, who would go on to become a “propaganda arm” for the alt-right neo-Nazi movement.

On March 21 of that same year, above a post to an article called “Anti M-103 Protest: ‘We Are The True Feminists,’” the Facebook page heaped praise on Sandra Soloman, an ex-Muslim who the very next day would make headlines for tearing out pages of the Qoran and reportedly placing them on people’s windshields outside of three mosques

“You go, girl! Sandra Solomon - a true warrior unlike the Antifa cowards across the street who cover their faces and behave like thugs,” they wrote. 

Even after the incident, AFC continued to share glowing interviews with Soloman posted to other Islamophobic sites.

  

Verbs For Canada 

    

In 2019, there was a shift away from focusing so narrowly on “Political Islam” in their advocacy, and the reordering included more targeting the 2SLGBTQ+ community in ACT’s newsletters and articles published on the website. The establishment of a new organization, Action4Canada, by Price and another activist Tanya Gaw, allowed a slight rebranding and an easy expansion of topics requiring action. 

ACT promoted the new organization. When Action4Canada began accusing “LGBT forces” of teaming up with “Islam to undermine Christian civilization,” ACT posted Gaw’s interview on the subject to their website and social accounts. In November 2019, A4C promoted protests against a “Drag Queen Story Hour” in Kelowna, British Columbia, an issue that appeared in ACT’s newsletter a few months prior. 

ACT continues to this day to produce content and newsletters.


Tanya Gaw interviewing anti-trans activist Alex Newman. Source: YouTube

ACT and its progeny A4C, took aim at what they call “political LGBTQ.” The groups began publishing articles about the alleged United Nations “LGBTQ Agenda.” This agenda includes such infractions as comprehensive sex education in schools, Pride Parades (which come with a content warning), and specifically transmisogynist takes on allowing trans people into “women’s spaces.”  

Throughout 2020 A4C published numerous fear-mongering articles complaining of “LGBTQ political extremism” and hyperbole about parental rights when it comes to trans kids. Both ACT and A4C lent support to Bill Whatcott, the virulent anti-2SLGBTQ+ activist who is facing hate charges for his stunts at Toronto Pride

 

From M-103 To Yellow Vests

 

The far-right movement was in a slump after M-103 passed and none of their fears materialized. They needed a new issue. In France, the Yellow Vests movement was holding massive and angry anti-austerity demonstrations. Canada’s anti-Muslim groups were inspired by footage of the protests and stole the signature uniform, and a few grievances, from the French movement.

Within a week, hundreds of thousands of people were part of Yellow Vest Canada Facebook groups. Yellow Vests Canada Exposed documented hundreds of overtly racist comments, often towards Muslims, and death threats. A few early joiners complained, and were swiftly ostracized and banned. The far-right accomplished something: when they rebrand and add more grievances, they bring new people into their spaces, and a lot of them will stick around.

ACT! For Canada began posting Yellow Vests Canada rallies and articles on their website in late 2019. Action4Canada did the same in 2020.    

Gaw is also listed as a director for the Canadian Coalition for Responsible Government. CCRG was heavily involved in the Alberta iteration of Yellow Vests Canada -- even organizing some of the earliest rallies. CCRG was founded by Jeff Sharpe, who has a history of associating with known hate groups (such as World Coalition Against Islam, Northern Guard, and Soldiers of Odin), and was a mainstay in the Yellow Vests Canada Alberta movement. 

Sharpe’s Islamophobic “activism” goes back years -- predating Action4Canada and CCRG.

While the Islamophobic sentiment would remain strong throughout the multiple instances of retargeting, ACT, and now Action4Canada, has repeatedly organized around headlines. They have adopted a number of side-causes and conspiracies about “globalists” and a “cabal” that seeks to undermine their idea of Canada. In time, cannabis legalization, 5G mobile technology, and a slew of other fanatical global ploys and subterfuges would be added to their list of grievances. 

And then came the pandemic.

  

The Plandemic Strikes

In June 2020 the first capture of Action4Canada appeared on the Internet Archive with some posts dating back into late 2019. Aiming to address a multitude of issues, a bright yellow box reading “Coronavirus Special Report” hovered over a pack of lions prowling through snow-covered grass. A corresponding Facebook page was also created a little under a year later, along with another channel on an encrypted chat app.  

ACT had always cast a wide net, from issues relating to the “great replacement” to the “red-green alliance” to “globalist-communist takeovers” and more. The new iteration chose not to adopt a slimmed-down approach, rather incorporating much of the same language and aesthetics as ACT! For Canada, while not technically the same group.

Charged with the mission of “speaking out about the clear and present dangers emerging from those who don't embrace Canada’s values along with the threat of homegrown terrorism,” the groups now lists abortion, cannabis legalization, 5G technology, vaccine mandates, “political LGBTQ,” and of course, “Political Islam” among the issues it hopes to tackle. 

This new iteration of “[Verbs] For Canada” lists both Tanya Gaw and Valerie Price as its founders and principal members. Part pseudo-”news” blog and part resource centre, the utility of the site provides printable versions of legal arguments and advice when contesting health restrictions and social and legal pushes toward vaccination, while also attempting to garner donations and support for activism, like letter-writing campaigns. 

Action4Canada is allegedly taking steps to bring the BC and federal government to court. Seated next to Gaw in a video released in August 2021, constitutional lawyer Rocco Galati lays out a case “challenging the various COVID measures in the province of British Columbia.”

The groups also endorsed the People’s Party of Canada and the Christian Heritage Party during the 2019 and 2021 elections.

 

Quick Pivots And Core Values

 

The ability to stay on brand while adopting new polarizing issues is one example of the ways that groups like this remain relevant in a shifting landscape of attention. While Islamophobia remains a powerful weapon to narrativize in any of this project’s numerous calls to action, the bearings they follow chart a course through all of Canada’s most contentious issues since ACT was founded.

ACT has managed to marry together the refugee crisis, encroaching communism, fears over returning ISIS fighters, demographic replacement, cannabis legalization, abortion, and the health policy taken on by the Government of Canada and the provinces. By doing so, they can remain true to the anti-Muslim bigotry that first brought the group into being while avoiding becoming irrelevant in a fast changing far-right ecosystem.

This model is one that has been seen repeated both by individuals and groups across the country. Deliberate or not, many of those who have shown resilience in the face of community, media, and social media backlash show an aptitude for making quick pivots to court the next wave of reactionary politics to draw support. 

 

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