Anger over Khadr settlement brings together Conservative Party and extreme anti-Muslim groups — Updated

Evan Balgord
Jul 20, 2017 · 6 min read

The Conservative Party may be courting extreme anti-Muslim groups, or at least finding their support, through its rhetoric on the Khadr settlement.

Longtime Conservative Party organizers cancelled their ‘Rally To Turn Khadr Settlement Over To Speer And Morris Families’ after it came to light that over half the people who RSVP’d on Facebook are connected with extreme anti-Muslim groups.

The rally would have been attended by several anti-Muslim groups — including uniformed groups like the Soldiers of Odin and the III%ers. This would have been an optics problem for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who is telling reporters that his party is welcoming to Muslims.

Despite the event being cancelled, a handful of people went to Parliament Hill on Sunday anyways, according to Metro News. Organizers say they may try to hold a similar rally in September.

Before it was cancelled, the rally had just over 100 RSVPs on Facebook. I looked at the Facebook profiles of the first 50 people who RSVPd “going”. I had to exclude 9 profiles with higher privacy settings, which left me with 41 profiles to examine.

Over half the people that RSVPd liked, or are part of, one or more anti-Muslim groups on Facebook. Even more liked one or more extreme anti-Muslim Facebook pages. Here’s what I found:

Total = 41. Charts exclude Facebook profiles with likes or groups set to private.

I found similar results when I looked at the first 20 people that RSVPd “interested,” with 10/16 liking an anti-Muslim page or posting overt anti-Muslim content and 6/10 liking, or being part of, an anti-Muslim group. Four were excluded for having their likes or groups set to private.

The groups in the anti-Muslim movement that these people like, or are part of, include the Jewish Defence League, the Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens, the Cultural Action Party, Sandra Solomon, the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam, Pegida Canada, the Proud Boys, the Soldiers of Odin, Suffragettes Against Silence, Storm Alliance, the III%ers, Canadian Combat Coalition, and La Meute. Some of these groups include white supremacists and some openly advocate for violence against Muslims, when they think it becomes necessary to prevent what they see as an Islamic takeover of the Western world.

The Conservatives have been quick to seize on the Khadr settlement — which is unpopular with two-thirds of Canadians, according to an Angus Reid poll. But, it’s dangerous territory for the Conservatives, who are facing criticism for what some see as engaging in the same kind of dog-whistle politics as they did in the 2015 general election with the ‘barbaric cultural practices’ tip line and the rhetoric of ‘old stock’ Canadians.

Omar Khadr — a Canadian citizen, terrorist, and child soldier — was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 at the age of 15. As part of a deal to allow him to return to Canada, he pled guilty at a military commission in Guantanamo Bay to throwing the grenade that killed Sgt. Chris Speer. The Supreme Court found that his human rights were violated during his ten year stay in Guantanamo. Khadr was suing the government for allegedly breaching his charter rights, and the government settled for $10.5 million. Now, Speer’s widow is going to try to get Khadr’s settlement money through the courts.

The rally was being organized by Georganne Burke, Scheer’s former Outreach Chair, and Debbie Jodoin, who did outreach for Bernier. Burke gave an interview about the rally on Thursday, before it was cancelled.

“The purpose of the rally is to bring attention to the unjust aspect of giving this reward to somebody who fought against our country,” says Burke. “I want to see people have an outlet for their feelings about this.”

Aaron Wudrick, Federal Director of the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation was going to be a speaker, as was an unnamed Member of Parliament.

Together, Burke and Jodoin have over 20 years of work history with the Conservative Party. But, Burke says that the rally has no relationship with the party and she’s doing this as an activist.

Burke said she was unconcerned about the people with connection to anti-Muslim groups that were RSVPing to the event.

“It is unfair to judge people based on the groups they are connected with on Facebook,” says Burke — who says she is a member of a couple of the groups only to assess and evaluate ideas. She stresses that the rally has nothing to do with Khadr being Muslim. But, members of anti-Muslim groups won’t be turned away.

“We are not telling anybody they can’t come because they hold a view that might be viewed as somewhat different from our own,” says Burke — “as long as they understand that the purpose of this rally is to bring this to the Parliament’s attention.”

The rally was cancelled on the Monday after my interview with Burke.

The Conservatives, intentionally or not, have earned themselves the strong support of anti-Muslim groups. These groups found encouragement in the Conservative’s opposition to M-103, the motion to condemn Islamophobia, and took it as a signal that their views weren’t fringe. Now, the Conservative Party and the anti-Muslim movement are united again, this time in their opposition to the Khadr settlement.

The anti-Muslim groups claim to only be critical of the religion of Islam — but they rarely stop there. Instead, these anti-Muslim groups say that there are no moderate Muslims and that Muslims who tell you otherwise are practicing taqiyya — Sharia sanctioned lying. They believe that Muslims want to take over and impose Sharia law — and that politicians like Prime Minister Trudeau are either blind to this, or complicit.

Now, some of these groups are armed and prepared to use violence to counter what they see as ‘creeping Sharia law’ and the ‘Islamization’ of Canada. The Soldiers of Odin — a Canadian offshoot of a Finish neo-Nazi group — are conducting neighbourhood patrols and Vice reports that the III%ers are stockpiling firearms and other weapons, conducting paramilitary training, and staking out mosques.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Chris Alexander points to the barbaric cultural practices tip line as one of the reasons the Conservatives lost the 2015 general election. He said it made the party look “unwelcoming” to immigrants.

Evan Balgord is a freelance journalist covering the anti-Muslim, alt-right and alt-light movements in Canada and Toronto. You can follow his work on Twitter at @ebalgord.

The full dataset and corresponding methodology will be made available to other journalists and researchers. If you want access, please send a Twitter DM to @ebalgord.

This article has been edited and updated from the original.

Evan Balgord

Written by

Freelance journalist and frequent contributor to @CANADALAND. I cover press freedom and the anti-Islam (often anti-Muslim) vs anti-racist conflict. DM me.