The Canadian Press
HAMILTON -- 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 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 of "Nazi scum, off our streets" at those going inside.
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.
Speaking to reporters after the event, Bernier lamented the disturbance outside and 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."
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.
Rubin, meanwhile, tweeted last 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."
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."
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.