Fallout from the referendum on creating a Muslim cemetery near Quebec City intensified across the province on Wednesday with revelations of a hate package sent to a mosque and questions about how much impact far-right activists had on the vote.
Sunday's referendum in the town of Saint-Apollinaire involved only 49 registered residents, who were asked to vote on a zoning change that would allow the Centre culturel Islamique de Québec to open a cemetery on nearby land.
However, the 19-16 rejection of the proposal rippled far beyond the town, becoming the latest episode in a debate about the place of Muslims in Quebec and the balance between religious rights and secularism.
The Islamic centre, which houses Quebec City's main mosque, on Tuesday evening revealed to its members that it had received a hate package two days before the referendum.
The news reignited anxieties at the mosque. A year ago, someone left a pig's head outside the centre, and in January, a gunman killed six worshippers and wounded 19 others.
Mosque leaders said they did not immediately disclose the existence of the package to prevent it from affecting the referendum.
Constable David Poitras, a spokesman for the Quebec City police, said his department has increased patrols at the mosque and is investigating after Canada Post delivered the package on Friday.
While Constable Poitras would not give details about the content of the package, mosque members say that it included a picture of pigs in a pasture and a note saying: "Looking for a plot to bury your dirty carcasses? Here's the ideal place."
Mahedine Djamai, the mosque's secretary-general, said Wednesday the package also contained a Koran that had been slashed.
Several politicians expressed sympathy for the Muslims of Quebec City, but it is not clear what the next step would be.
A lawyer for the Muslim centre, Nadia El-Ghandouri, told reporters the community is debating whether a Charter challenge of the referendum result is possible.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard was among those who spoke out against the hate package. "No one deserves to be treated like this. It is a cowardly gesture," he said.
Emotions also ran high over reports that La Meute, a self-styled anti-Islamist anti-multiculturalism group, had played a role in the referendum campaign.
In Quebec City, Mayor Régis Labeaume warned on Tuesday that he had asked the police to be vigilant about La Meute. "This is extremely toxic. This is the fear-mongering extreme right creating some kind of militia," he told reporters.
In an interview with CHOI-FM, La Meute representative Sylvain Brouillette denied that the group was on the far right, but confirmed that members had taken part, on an individual basis, in the campaign against the cemetery.
At a public assembly in Saint-Apollinaire last March, a Globe reporter saw a self-described member of La Meute in the audience wearing a cap with the group's paw-print logo.
In his radio interview, Mr. Brouillette said he attended an information meeting because he owns a business in Saint-Apollinaire, but added that he was not involved further.
Saint-Apollinaire resident Sunny Létourneau, who spearheaded the opposition to the cemetery, denied media reports that she was a member of La Meute. "I asked them not to get involved," she said.
She said she joined a Facebook page for La Meute members to correct information being posted online.
La Meute (the French word for a wolf pack) describes itself an organization created to counter the rise of "radical Islam" and claims to have more than 44,000 members.
Incorporated provincially last year, its co-presidents are two Quebec City-area men, Éric Venne and Patrick Beaudry, who describe themselves as former members of the Canadian Forces.
With a file from The Canadian Press