Messages promoting violence against Muslims posted by members of a private personal Facebook group belonging to FTQ-Construction union boss Bernard "Rambo" Gauthier are raising concerns.
According to Radio-Canada, the alleged author of one post written in French that called for all Muslims to be "machine-gunned and their bodies shipped back to where they came from" was arrested by provincial police on April 4.
The suspect, a resident of Laval, was interviewed and released and the file is now being reviewed by Quebec's Crown prosecutor's office to determine if charges are warranted.
The private group where the message was posted has 11,000 members and is independent of the political party that Gauthier serves as spokesperson, Citoyens au pouvoir du Quebec.
Gauthier is planning to run for the party in the next provincial election.
According to Radio-Canada, which had access to the private group, Islam is a prominent theme in discussions and talk of violence against Muslims occurs regularly.
"Why not incinerate all of them in their mosques right now that would take care of the problem. Then load their ashes in a plane and send them back where they came from," one post reads.
"That would be perfect," another member replied.
'All subjects welcome', says moderator
A directive posted by one of the page's moderators, Jo Ann Brown Lachance, says "ALL subjects are welcome" but "blasphemy, harassment, threats" aren't allowed.
"Above all, don't treat members as RACIST, xenophobes or Islamophobes! These words don't exist! They're an invention of the media! FREE EXPRESSION FOR ALL!" Brown Lachance writes.
Gauthier wrote in the group that its moderators "are doing exceptional work to verify and try to control everything."
On April 10, after Radio-Canada contacted him about comments found in the group, Gauthier posted "apparently there are some hateful comments or something of that type on my personal pages."
Gauthier followed that by promising to clean up the page and remove such comments.
He refused Radio-Canada's request for an interview, accusing the journalist of "thirsting for sensation" and highlighting that the page was personal.
Group a 'nursery' of radicalization, says advocate
According to Radio-Canada, Yves Ouellet, president of FTQ-Construction, raised concerns about the page with Gauthier, noting that he's the union's public face in Quebec's North Shore region.
Herman Deparice-Okomba, director of the Montreal-based Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence, said he was "stunned" by the number and virulence of the remarks, calling the Facebook page a "nursery" of radicalization.
"We are talking about everything identified in the Criminal Code, including section 319 [on public incitement to hatred]," he told Radio-Canada. "They are people who directly encourage assault and encourage the use of firearms."
"It is clear in this case that we are dealing with people who are very dangerous to public safety," he added.
"There are always lone wolves who will be sensitive to this kind of speech."
The fact it's a private, personal page doesn't matter, says Deparice-Okomba.
"With 11,000 members, this is a forum for public discussion. [Gauthier] has a share of the responsibility."