Canadian Anti-Hate Network
A convoy of anti-mask protesters descended upon Québec City for a demonstration on the steps of the National Assembly last month. A day prior, on November 27, Stéphane Blais, a leading figure of Québec’s anti-mask movement, predicted this rally would turn out to be one of the largest in the province’s history.
No more than a few hundred people came out.
Blais, the leader of a small provincial political party named Citoyens au Pouvoir du Québec (Citizens in Power of Québec), has been in the news since the summer, when he launched a lawsuit against the provincial government to overturn COVID-19 restrictions.
Though his lawsuit has so far been unsuccessful, he has used the notoriety to spread anti-mask conspiracy theories.
Few Québécois are even aware of Citoyens au Pouvoir’s existence, but Blais’ activism has placed it at the forefront of Québec’s anti-mask movement. However, the party’s ties to hateful and conspiratorial elements are longer standing.
Founded in 2011 under the name Coalition pour la Constituante (Coalition for the Constituent), CAP started out as a movement seeking to represent independent voters in the provincial legislature. It then changed trajectory when Bernard ‘Rambo’ Gauthier, a well-known union activist, became the party’s leader in 2016. A few months into his leadership, Gauthier became a member of La Meute, a Québec-based anti-Muslim group, which helped the party make inroads with other factions of Québec’s hate ecosystem.
In 2017, CAP sent a delegation to an event organized by the ultra-nationalist group Mouvement Républicain du Québec (Republican Movement of Québec), in the small town of St-Lazare. Stéphane Blais, then simply a member of the party, gave a keynote address as part of the event, which also featured speakers like right-wing conspiracy theorist André Pitre and Alexandre Cormier-Denis, a sovereigntist activist with ties to the French far-right party National Rally.
Several members of La Meute, including its then-leader Sylvain Brouillette, were also in attendance.
Stéphane Blais, current leader of Citoyens au Pouvoir, speaking at a Mouvement Républicain du Québec event in June 2017. Source: Mouvement Républicain du Québec
In the months leading up to the 2018 provincial election, Blais was elected leader of CAP, and helped recruit the largest slate of candidates in the party’s history. The fringe party faced some controversy after one of its candidates, Michel Fournier, pledged to hold a referendum on the removal of mosques in Québec. Though he eventually dropped out of the race, the party never publicly condemned his proposal. Instead, a representative of the party said that “for the time being, it seems as though Mr. Fournier has chosen to desist himself from his involvement with Citoyens au Pouvoir du Québec,” according to a statement.
On election day, the party only received the support of 0.34% of all electors at the polls. Though none of them were elected to the National Assembly, several of the party’s 2018 candidates have since then attempted to build on its ties with hate groups and conspiracists in order to build their own platforms.
Alexis Cossette-Trudel, who ran as the CAP candidate for the riding of Gouin, is now one of the province’s most famous conspiracists. As the host of Radio-Québec, a popular livestreamed show on which he peddles Qanon conspiracy theories, Cossette-Trudel has played a central role in the spread of disinformation regarding the provincial government’s response to the epidemic.
He has also gained an international following, spreading QAnon theories to French language listeners across the world.
A hardline Trump supporter, the host believes Trump is humanity’s last hope in the fight against the “techno-sanitary dictatorship of the globalists,” and was the winner of the 2020 US election.
In October, Cossette-Trudel’s Youtube and Facebook accounts, on which he had close to 200,000 followers, were taken down, as the platforms attempted to curb the growth of Qanon before the US election. He remains active on Twitter, where he also enjoys a large following.
Outside of his involvement with CAP, Cossette-Trudel has also appeared as a guest on PPC leader Maxime Bernier’s Youtube show.
Previously a candidate for the Bloc Québécois in 2015, Daniel St-Hilaire also ran under the CAP banner in 2018.
An ex-Olympic athleticism coach, St-Hilaire has become increasingly active within circles that peddle hate. In June 2017, he spoke at the same Mouvement Républicain du Québec event which featured Stéphane Blais. According to a report published by antifascist activist Xavier Camus, St-Hilaire has endorsed the Great Replacement theory, according to which the white population of western countries is being deliberately replaced through mass immigration.
In a Facebook post published on August 17 that year, he also decried the labelling of La Meute as a hate group, likening it to “systemic racism against the québécois people.” His support for La Meute, however, goes beyond the realm of social media, as he has also participated in several anti-asylum seekers they organized in collaboration with the Storm Alliance.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, St-Hilaire has used his platform to raise the profile of conspiracists like Alexis Cossette-Trudel, and has attended several anti-mask rallies, occasionally as a guest speaker.
Another CAP candidate, self-described “free-thinker” Daniel Pilon, ran in Vaudreuil during the 2018 election. His 24,000 follower Youtube channel, which previously offered financial advice, has transitioned towards being a platform for COVID-19-related conspiracy theories.
Pilon frequently features controversial guests, like Qanon supporter Ken Pereira. He has also appeared as a guest on André Pitre’s livestreamed show Le Stu-Dio, which acts as a hub for conspiratorial and far-right punditry in Québec.
In a Facebook livestream published on November 19, Pilon endorsed the theory that COVID-19 was created in a French laboratory and stated that mask-wearing guidelines were “bringing about the disappearance of the alpha-male.”
As key figures of Québec’s anti-mask movement, these three past candidates, as well as party leader Stéphane Blais, have continued to collaborate, appearing on each other’s livestreams, and organizing demonstrations together.
In May, when Blais stated his intention to launch a foundation to sue the Québec government, he did so with their support.