January 4, 2011
MONTREAL—There’s no sign, per se, but there is a shirt in the window silkscreened with the image of militant Quebec separatist Pierre Falardeau and the words: “Now it’s your turn to be scared.”
Inside, past a rack of nationalist books, including one called Quebec Bashing , which can be found alongside one on Mao Zedong, there is a wall of white, winter balaclavas and camouflage gas masks, another wall of boots and, to the right, a counter behind which hang realistic-looking paintball rifles.
They hope to soon have a permit to sell real guns.
This is the new recruitment centre for the Milice Patriotique Québécoise, a shadowy separatist militia that, after nearly a decade of existence, is only now coming into the light.
The centre opened its doors at the end of November in a working class neighbourhood of east Montreal.
The founder and leader, “Major” Serge Provost, is not out to make friends with this venture. Indeed, even other separatists are uncomfortable with him, mindful of Quebec’s painful history with the murderous Front de libération du Québec.
But Provost says his group operates in a defensive mode only, “to protect the people of Quebec.”
“The only entity able to protect Quebecers now is the Canadian army,” says Provost, 42. “So, the only ones who can help us are our adversaries.”
Never mind the army is made up of thousands of Quebecers as well. Provost retorts that “most” of them complain about bashing in the ranks too.
The idea for the centre is to both attract new recruits to the militia — he says “five or six” have come in during the month it’s been open — and to provide jobs for separatists who’ve lost theirs because of their political beliefs.
Asked for evidence of that happening, Provost says he lost his own job as a car salesman after the RCMP apparently informed his “federalist” boss about the militia.
So the militia is now his full-time passion. Beyond combat training, it provides some practical skills such as life saving. There are regular wilderness outings to learn winter survival skills. It also purports to assist in natural disasters.
But a militia must, by definition, know how to fight. These militia members have filmed themselves in mock combat deep in the forests of Quebec.
If ever the separatist dream came true, Provost says his group could facilitate the transition to a separate state and maintain order.
There are about 200 members, he estimates, with 75 in leadership positions.
After a decade, why aren’t there more? “Because we’re not paid,” he replies, adding there are many sympathizers, including 1,744 Facebook friends.
Provost is single, a former army reservist who, after his time as a reservist went to live in Thunder Bay and then the Maritimes, and in both places he says he was welcomed with open arms.
Upon his return to Quebec, however, he realized how different the cultures were and decided separatism was best.
In 2003, police arrested seven people in connection with separatist and anti-Canadian graffiti in an English-speaking suburb.
Though media reports at the time said several were also levied with explosives charges, Provost says only he was — though he didn’t participate in the graffiti work.
The “explosive” in his vehicle was simply gunpowder, he says. “That doesn’t make it a car bomb,” he says, noting the charges were thrown out.
Still, to other sovereignist groups, even those considered quite hard line, he’s more annoyance than ally.
“We are about non-violence, not an armed militia or this kind of thing,” says Mario Beaulieu, president of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste. “They talk of protecting the territory in the event of a threat, but who decides what is a threat?”
Provost counters that his group is “not an organization of attack.” But to Beaulieu, who was hesitant to discuss the militia for fear of giving it publicity, “when we start to talk about armament and strategy, it becomes more problematic.”
Provost says all recruits are given a mental stability questionnaire, and that anyone can join, from any race or background. He would even accept someone from Montreal’s tony English-speaking neighbourhood of Westmount.
“We are sovereignists and independentists before everything,” he laughs, “but we are not fascists.”
What about extremist? It’s a reputation that endures, and he wears that label with pride.
“To submit to a structure as important as we want it to be is extreme,” he declares.
“It takes extreme courage and requires extreme loyalty.”