Pro-, anti-Bill 21 protests kept apart after tense afternoon

Duelling protests, separated by riot police, took place in the Gay Village today over Quebec's controversial bill to ban religious symbols among the public-sector workforce.

Hundreds of pro-Bill 21 demonstrators waved the provincial flag on de Maisonneuve Boulevard at Champlain Street, in front of TVA's head offices.  

One woman named Sylvie spoke to the Canadian Press's French-language service, saying she came to the "Blue Wave" protest because she wanted to "protect our assets." She professed fears that Muslims would "infiltrate" the Quebec state "insiduously."

Several dozen counter-protesters arrived by noon to oppose the "Blue Wave".  

They expressed concern that the demonstration appeared closely-aligned with nationalist and far-right organizations: among the pro-Bill 21 demonstrators were paramilitaries displaying the logo of well-known far-right group Storm Alliance, as well as the "81" of the Hells Angels.

At one point, counter-protesters began chanting "welcome to refugees, goodbye to racists."

The demonstrations come just days before the National Assembly is set to begin hearings into the controversial legislation.

With files from the Canadian Press's French-language service and CTV Montreal.