Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Since his election as leader of the Conservative Party of Québec in April 2021, Éric Duhaime has sought to redress his image. He has walked back controversial positions he once held, like that poor people should not have the right to vote, and denies ever promoting conspiracy theories.
Duhaime’s close ties to one of Québec’s most popular anti-lockdown influencers, however, bring this denial into question.
Samuel Grenier, an accountant from the Montréal suburb of Blainville, gained prominence in Québec’s conspiracy sphere over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic by live streaming conversations between himself and like-minded activists about their opposition to public health measures and vaccine mandates.
Guests on his streams include Alexis Cossette-Trudel, QAnon’s most popular influencer in Québec; Stéphane Blais, who leads the fringe far-right party Citoyens au Pouvoir; and Dan Pilon, who believes that COVID-19 is not a deadly disease, but rather a piece of a sinister plan involving 5G towers and Bill Gates.
In his streams, Grenier sometimes refers to these well-known conspiracy theorists as “colleagues.”
Samuel Grenier (back row, second from the left) alongside many prominent québécois conspiracy theorists, including Dan Pilon (back row, far left), Lucie Laurier, Alexis Cossette-Trudel and Stéphane Blais (back row, fourth, third and second on the right). Source: Xavier Camus.
In May 2021, Grenier and Pilon notably co-organized Québec Debout (Québec Stand Up), a massive anti-lockdown protest targeting Montréal’s Olympic stadium, at the time the home of the largest vaccination center in the city. In a Facebook post, Grenier described the latter as a “slaughterhouse,” and called on protesters to “encircle the facility.”
The protest forced the clinic to shut down for a day.
Duhaime first met Samuel Grenier in August 2020 during a rally against mask mandates in schools. Pictures from the rally show the pair marching next to one another.
Grenier (left) marching by Éric Duhaime (right) and Josée Turmel (center). Source: Facebook.
When Duhaime announced his bid for the leadership of the fringe Conservative Party of Québec, then without a seat in the National Assembly, Grenier claims to have been among the first to sign up to support him. In a live stream posted in February 2021 in which he officially endorsed Duhaime’s campaign, Grenier showered the former Rebel Media employee with praise, calling on others to support him in order to send a message to Québec Premier François Legault.
“Send Mr. Legault a clear message that there is a resistance, that there are other ideas out there, ones that are different from his, and that you have the right to defend them. That’s why I rose up rapidly to say, I support him. It’s really important for people to know, because it’s a way to say no, I refuse to be conditioned into accepting what is happening right now.”
“I can’t wait to see you in person, and not virtually. Hopefully the next time we can do this (a live stream) in a café or a restaurant,” says Duhaime before leaving the stream.
Since then, Grenier has been one of Duhaime’s most vocal supporters, sharing the screen with him and his party’s candidates. Duhaime’s latest appearance on Grenier’s live stream lasted no less than forty minutes.
Grenier and Duhaime on a livestream in December 2021. Source: Facebook.
Duhaime’s weekly live streams are cross-posted on Grenier’s own Facebook and Twitter accounts, pushing them into the feeds of his nearly 50,000 cumulative followers.
Grenier has also been a guest on some of Duhaime’s own live streams. During his latest appearance, on January 13, 2022, he is introduced by the Conservative Party’s executive director Raffael Cavaliere as “Samuel, who we know well,” foregoing the use of last names.
Duhaime greeted Grenier as a friend as he joined the stream, and later in the discussion, Duhaime invites Grenier to knock on doors for his candidate during a byelection. Pictures found on Grenier’s own social media accounts show him heeding Duhaime’s call, volunteering for the candidate later on.
Samuel Grenier alongside other volunteers for Conservative Party candidate Anne Casabonne. Source: Twitter.
“I like this guy a lot, because he’s so positive. He’s got such a positive side to him, he has such positive energy, I always feel like smiling and it gives me so much joy when I speak to him,” added Duhaime after Grenier logged off.
After Marine Le Pen’s defeat in the French Presidential elections, Grenier went live on Facebook to express his ”discouragement with the French,” calling the 58% of electors who cast their ballots for Emmanuel Macron “submitted.” He also used the opportunity to push his fellow québécois to sign up in support of Duhaime to avoid the same fate as the French far-right firebrand.
“We need to convince people to buy memberships, to go vote, to become volunteers. We have work to do. If we’re not willing to do it, we need to be ready to suffer the same results. We’ll reelect this party (the ruling Coalition Avenir Québec), they’ll feel like they have the moral authority to do what they want, and we’ll pay for it.”
In an earlier Facebook live, Grenier also compared depictions of Marine Le Pen as an extremist to the way Québec Premier François Legault depicts Éric Duhaime to distract from his own extremist views.
“‘In 2017, I wrote ‘Marine, if you’re kicked out of France, please come here to Québec to clean up the mess.’ Because we need someone like her,” noted Grenier during this stream.
In an email to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, Grenier said he does not endorse all of Le Pen’s positions, but likes that she “works against (French President) Macron, who is very globalist.”
Undeterred by Grenier’s stances and associations, Duhaime and his party have reposted clips from his live streams on more than one occasion and featured him prominently in a video announcing Duhaime’s intentions to run in the Québec-area riding of Chauveau.
Several mainstream outlets have reported on Grenier’s promotion of conspiracy theories. In spite of this, none have reported on his ties to Duhaime, playing into the latter’s strategy of whitewashing his more controversial political stances. Recent polls have shown his Conservative Party of Québec could make significant gains in the upcoming provincial elections in October 2022.
A “Moderate” Conspiracy Theorist
Since his appearance on the COVID conspiracy scene, Grenier has cultivated the image of an approachable and polite activist who favours dialogue over confrontation, and who avoids the promotion of wide-reaching conspiracy theories.
“You all know that I’m not really into globalism or conspiracism. You know, it’s not my discourse. ... I prefer to focus on observations, on what we are living right now,” he once said on a live stream.
This self-presentation contradicts statements made by Grenier in communications with the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
Responding to a request for comment, Grenier denied being a “conspiracy theorist,” arguing that the term has been used to defame “people who call into question the official narrative.”
In December 2021, Grenier took to Facebook Live to dispel the “apocalyptic narrative” surrounding the Omicron variant, which he argued was being pushed in order to trick unvaccinated individuals into “receiving the jab” voluntarily.
Research shows the Omicron wave was likely the deadliest of all COVID-19 waves over the course of the pandemic in Canada due to its transmissibility.
In one Facebook post, Grenier also lampoons Québec’s defunct vaccine passport system, saying he plans on organizing a party in his backyard, but that guests over a certain weight would not be able to attend as “it would be unfortunate not to reward those who have put in effort to avoid filling up hospitals.”
In another social media publication, he calls the embattled French microbiologist Didier Raoult, one of the early promoters of hydroxychloroquine as a cure for COVID-19, inspiring, and calls out doctors and journalists who disagree with his debunked claims.
Though Grenier tends to avoid speaking on controversial issues, focusing his messaging on the importance of “unity” within the COVID-19 conspiracy movement, he shares his large platform with a series of recurring guests pushing harmful ideas. His network of guests includes Qanon believers, anti-vaccine advocates, and ex-hate group members, who have been able to freely share their ideas with little pushback.
His affable approach to dissident politics allows Grenier to build bridges between these more radical factions and more mainstream québécois. The large demonstration he organized at the Montréal Olympic Stadium on May 1, 2021, notably attracted a large contingent of Qanon supporters, as well as politicians like Maxime Bernier.
In an email, Grenier explained that he often disagrees with those he considers his colleagues, citing his lack of belief in the theses of Qanon as an example, but that it “does not matter to a free thinker like himself.”
Éric Duhaime did not respond to our request for comment.