Exploring the danger behind Quebec's anti-mask conspiracy
Experts who monitor extremist groups are worried about violence moving from online into the real world
Jonathan Montpetit · CBC News · Posted: Sep 17, 2020 4:00 AM ET | Last Updated: 26 minutes ago
"Late one Tuesday night in May, while most of Quebec was still under lockdown orders, the phone rang in Premier François Legault's riding office.
In a calm but firm voice, a man left a message saying he regretted voting for Legault, and then warned the premier that his days were numbered.
A few hours later, at 3:16 a.m., the man called back and left another message. This time he was screaming and swearing about Quebec's top public health official, Dr. Horacio Arruda.
The man said he could get access to a gun and wanted to shoot Arruda.
A member of Legault's office staff who heard the message alerted Quebec provincial police. Their investigation quickly turned international.
The calls were traced to a 47-year-old trucker from Quebec City, Philippe Côté. A tracking device on his truck indicated Côté was in Texas, not far from a gun shop, when he phoned Legault's office.
Canadian border guards were placed on alert. When Côté crossed back into Canada on May 16, they spent three hours searching his truck.
The border guards didn't find any weapons, but they did uncover evidence of a different threat, one that also crosses borders and has the potential for violence.
"Several bits of paper were found on which were written different political conspiracy theories," reads a description of the incident contained in court documents.
Côté was allowed to re-enter the country, but was arrested by provincial police a short time later. On May 21, he pleaded guilty to two counts of uttering death threats, and will be sentenced later this month.
Côté's lawyer, Olivier Morin, told reporters back in May that his client had been emotionally distraught by the pandemic and the rules he had to follow as a trucker.
"He was mixed up. He wanted answers and he went on conspiracy websites," Morin said.
Since May, provincial police in Quebec have arrested at least four other people for allegedly making online threats against politicians and other public figures. Police have interviewed several more about their online activities following complaints from the public.
The suspects all have Facebook accounts that promote conspiracy theories about COVID-19, including some that originate from QAnon, a conspiracy movement that began in the U.S. and is now considered a national security threat by the FBI."
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