POLITICS
02/19/2019 18:02 EST | Updated 02/20/2019 13:40 EST

Yellow Vests, United We Roll Aren't Just A Pipeline Movement: Experts

“There are racist elements within the movement," acknowledged a Yellow Vest organizer.

As United We Roll organizers drive home the message that Canada needs more pipelines, experts warn it's a dangerous movement that cannot be separated from xenophobia and hatred.

The convoy of a couple hundred trucks that began in Red Deer, Alta. last week arrived in Ottawa Tuesday, with the support of Conservative politicians, including party leader Andrew Scheer, People's Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier, and white nationalist Faith Goldy.

"It is time Canada has a prime minister who is proud of our energy sector ... that fights for it and fights to get you back to work," Scheer told the convoy. "Conservatives support our energy sector. We want to get our pipelines built again.

"We celebrate what you've done to build this country, benefitting every single region."

United We Roll was called the Yellow Vest Convoy less than a month ago, and is directly linked to the movement whose members propagate fear-mongering, and hateful rhetoric about immigrants, particularly Muslims.

"There are racist elements within the movement. It is reflective of Canada as a whole and has some bad apples," said Mark Friesen, an administrator for Yellow Vests Canada's Facebook page, which has more than 110,000 members.

LARS HAGBERG/Getty Images
A protester and counter protesters gather during the United We Roll demonstration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb.19, 2019.

Friesen, who arrived in Ottawa Tuesday morning as part of the convoy, told HuffPost Canada he tries to keep the online community focused on the group's mission to educate Canadians about the need to quell immigration, not sign the United Nations' migration pact, and stop carbon taxes and a sustainable development agenda, but "you can't control all of it."

Yellow Vests and United We Roll remain major concerns to McMaster University Prof. Ameil Joseph, who specializes in race theory, immigration and mental health.

"A movement may try to distance itself and claim a project they think is innocent, but when you scratch the surface you realize it's a vehicle of hate," said Joseph. He described yellow vests as "a revisioned white nationalist, white supremacist movement."

"It's terrifying," Joseph said.

LARS HAGBERG/Getty Images
A man wears a 'Make Canada Great Again' hat during the Convoy for Canada protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 19, 2019.

Since December, members have posted conspiracy theories about Muslims to the Facebook page, and refer to them using derogatory terms.

There is a post calling for Liberal MP Iqra Khalid to be deported, another saying "euro-Canadians" should advocate for their "ethnic interests." Last month Facebook began removing comments from the page after Global News reported members were making death threats against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

A blog written by an organizer from a Sault. Ste. Marie, Ont.'s chapter of Yellow Vests, calls for specific politicians to be killed and refers to visible minorities as "sub-human." Another Yellow Vest organizer, Jason Corbeil, told The Canadian Press the organization is no longer associated with the chapter.

Yellow Vests Canada was inspired by a French movement of the same name that's gained momentum in recent months in response to rising fuel prices. However, Canada's ambassador to France, Isabelle Hudon, said Canada's version bears little resemblance and has been taken over by far-right extremists.

Watch the Yellow Vests movement in France. Story continues below

Canadian Anti-Hate Network has been monitoring the "overtly hateful movement" on social media, the politicians who've come to support United We Roll, and the media's coverage, said executive director Evan Balgord.

He is concerned the movement could inspire an angry person to resort to violence, similar to how Alexandre Bissonnette murdered six men in a Quebec mosque two years ago after following right-wing commentators, alt-right figures and President Donald Trump.

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"There's no excuse for politicians supporting this thing," Balgord said. "The mainstream media's coverage has been very disappointing, white washing everything we've discussed.

"It's not first and foremost a pro-pipeline movement."

In the coming days, Joseph said he wants to see politicians speak out against Yellow Vests, so that people hear an alternative voice.

"If there is a conversation about pipelines, it should be happening within a discussion of ways to collaborate internationally and locally on climate change as well as with indigenous people who have been raising concerns about pipelines and ongoing colonization for years," he said.