02/11/2015 05:00 EST | Updated 04/12/2015 05:59 EDT

Jewish Defence League To Expand To Montreal, Aims To Impact Federal Election

MONTREAL - The Canadian chapter of the Jewish Defence League is expanding its operations into Montreal and its leader says he also hopes to influence voters in the upcoming federal election.

The group's national director said Tuesday the main goal of the Montreal office will be to unite Quebecers against what he calls the increased threat of radical Islam.

"You guys have a serious problem," Meir Weinstein said in an interview, referring to what he called a rise in the number of people and organizations in Montreal that promote religious radicalism.

But the controversial organization's first expansion outside Toronto will also have a political bent.

"We are very concerned that there are prominent leaders in the Jewish community in Montreal who stand behind the Liberals," he said. "We want to change that."

Weinstein said only the Conservative Party has taken a "strong and proper" position on terrorism and he wants the Jewish community in Montreal "to stand behind the Conservatives."

Conservative Party spokesman Cory Hann didn't directly address whether or not the party was happy being endorsed by the JDL.

"Israel and the Jewish community have no greater ally than Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada," he responded in an email to questions about the JDL's endorsement.

The Montreal chapter's first meeting is Monday night and Weinstein said he hopes to speak to a big crowd.

"We're focusing on establishing a very active chapter in Montreal," he said.

The JDL is controversial. It was founded in the U.S. in the 1960s but Weinstein said the organization is not very active south of the border.

One of the reasons is due to the Federal Bureau of Investigation calling the JDL a "violent extremist Jewish Organization" in its 2000-01 report on terrorism. U.S. authorities arrested two active members of the JDL in 2001 whom they said planned to bomb a mosque in California.

The group's Canadian branch does not have a history of violence, although a few of its members have been part of protests that have turned violent.

Weinstein said he isn't sure of JDL Canada's overall membership, but said his email list for the group has about 3,000 contacts. Funding comes from donations across the country, he added.

Among the services offered by the organization will be "security teams" that provide bodyguards to monitor Jewish events. Weinstein said he also plans to recruit people to investigate and infiltrate groups and organizations he says promote Islamic fundamentalism.

"You have to gather as much credible intelligence as possible and that could mean putting people inside groups to come up with information which is a practice we do (in Toronto)," he said.

Montreal police Cmdr. Ian Lafrenière said that the city's police is monitoring the arrival of a Montreal chapter with interest, but adds authorities don't have any intelligence to suggest the group is violent or will commit violence.

"We are gathering information," he said.

Muslim and Jewish groups in Montreal were quite vocal on Tuesday, however, in their criticism of the JDL.

Salam Elmenyawi, a Muslim cleric and head of the Muslim Council of Montreal, said he will meet with other Muslim and non-Muslim groups to figure out how to prevent the JDL from operating in the city.

"If what we've been reading about them is true, then their presence should not be accepted by the authorities and they should work towards evicting them from Canada in general and Quebec in particular," Elmenyawi said.

Rabbi Reuben J. Poupko, with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Montreal, is also not welcoming the JDL to the city.

He says the 2011 federal election results revealed that the city's Jews already have in large numbers moved away from the Liberal party. And regarding security, Poupko said the Jewish community has great faith in the police.

"The truth is we have suffered from anti-Semitic vandalism in Montreal," he said. "And in each serious instance, the events were followed by investigations, prosecutions and imprisonment."

Poupko said he's not perturbed by Weinstein's claim of creating surveillance teams.

"I don't believe they have the capacity to do something like that," he said.

— Follow (at)gvaliante on Twitter.

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