09/30/2019 00:13 EDT | Updated 09/30/2019 16:08 EDT

Maxime Bernier's Hamilton Event Draws Demonstrators, Clashes

Protesters compared those going to the discussion to Nazis.

HAMILTON, Ont. — A protest outside an event by People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier took a violent turn Sunday evening as demonstrators clashed with supporters and those attending, with several people led away in handcuffs.

A fight broke out near the entrance of a hall at Hamilton’s Mohawk College before the talk was set to begin, and police said four people were arrested for breach of the peace and later released. No injuries were reported.

Demonstrators, some of them covering part of their faces with bandannas or balaclavas, hoisted signs that read “White supremacy is terrorism” and “Refugees welcome here” as they yelled chants comparing those going inside to Nazis.

A group of People’s Party supporters, at least one wearing a Make America Great Again hat, occasionally shouted at the protesters from behind a barrier of police officers.

Bernier was also interrupted at an event in Surrey, B.C., last week.

Chris Young/Canadian Press
A scuffle breaks out before People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier holds an event in Hamilton, Ont. on Sept. 29, 2019.

Speaking to reporters after the Hamilton event on Sunday, Bernier said his party and his policies are misunderstood.

“For me, that was the first experience and I must admit that I didn’t like it. It’s not Canadian,” he said of the epithets hurled by protesters.

“These people didn’t take time to read our platform because what they were saying, it is not who we are and who I am as a politician, so that’s too bad that they didn’t want to have any discussion,” he said.

“We cannot debate when people don’t want to look at what you’re saying in reality.”

Polarizing event

The event, a roundtable discussion on free speech involving Bernier and American political commentator David Rubin, has proven polarizing in a city that some experts describe as a hot bed for the far right.

The school has faced criticism for allowing Bernier to rent the facility, with some accusing the institution of providing a platform for hate speech.

Chris Young/Canadian Press
People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier, left, talks with American political commentator Dave Rubin in Hamilton, Ont., on Sept. 29, 2019.

Rubin, meanwhile, tweeted earlier this week that the event had been cancelled due to “threats from Antifa,” stirring allegations of censorship. He later clarified the talk was still taking place.

Mohawk College’s president has said the school is bound by a “government-mandated freedom of speech policy” that requires it to provide opportunities for anyone to voice their views.

“The event in question involves a member of a federal political party that is recognized in the national discourse,” Ron McKerlie tweeted earlier this month.

“Rental of this space does not represent an endorsement of the views of the organizers. Our policy is clear about events inciting hate.”

Chris Young/Canadian Press
A ticket holder is confronted as she arrives for an event held by People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier in Hamilton, Ont., on Sept. 29, 2019.

Bernier has denounced “mass immigration” and “extreme multiculturalism,” and has promised to dramatically reduce the number of immigrants admitted to Canada, saying the country should look after its own citizens first.

He has also said climate change does not pose an imminent threat.

Bernier, who was greeted with a standing ovation, touched on those positions Sunday in a discussion that began with a moderator thanking the crowd for “pushing back against the fascism that’s happening outside.”

Chris Young/Canadian Press
A protester is arrested before People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier holds an event in Hamilton, Ont., on Sept. 29, 2019.

Just days after massive climate change rallies took place across the country, Bernier described the issue as a “religion” and said he hoped people would soon “wake up.”

A segment of the crowd booed when a moderator mentioned teen activist Greta Thunberg, who spearheaded the movement.

Bernier also vowed to repeal the Canadian Multiculturalism Act and promote Canadian culture and values.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2019.

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