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Protester Arrested for Wearing ‘Aylan Should Be Here’ T-Shirt at Stephen Harper Event

Sean Devlin may face charges over protest at the prime minister's campaign stop. VICE spoke to him from an RCMP holding cell.
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA
September 3, 2015, 8:11pm

Alan Kurdi, left, and his brother Galib Kurdi. Photo courtesy Tima Kurdi/The Canadian Press, via AP

Sean Devlin says he is facing charges for resisting arrest and obstruction of justice because he wore a T-shirt to a campaign stop with the prime minister, protesting the Conservatives' lack of action on resettling Syrian refugees.

Devlin, known for his role in the Shit Harper Did website, showed up to an event in Surrey, British Columbia on Thursday morning, where Stephen Harper was supposed to address the media firestorm that grew around the death of Alan Kurdi.(Note: Turkish authorities first named Alan as Aylan.)

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Under his blazer, he was wearing a T-shirt reading "Aylan should be here."

During his arrest, Devlin says that shirt got ripped. "Which I thought was rather symbolic," he says.

Kurdi, just three years old, drowned when the boat he was traveling in capsized off the coast of Turkey. His mother and five-year-old brother lost their lives as well.

A photo of Kurdi's body was splashed across headlines worldwide on Thursday, as a symbolic representation of the growing refugee crisis facing the world. Kurdi's aunt tried to bring her family to British Columbia, where she had relocated, but abandoned those plans after Canada's immigration system denied a refugee application from Alan's uncle.

"I went then there this morning. I presented no identification, and I walked right into the event," Devlin told VICE. "When I went inside the event, a photographer said they needed more young faces behind Harper, so they actually invited me to stand in the backdrop behind his podium."

Devlin spoke to VICE from inside an RCMP holding cell in Surrey. He was only able to tell part of the story before RCMP officers arrived and told him to hang up the call.

"I don't really understand what's happening right now," Devlin said of his circumstances. He says he's facing charges of resisting arrest and obstruction of the peace.

It's not the first time that Devlin has done this. He got onstage with the prime minister in 2014, and pulled out a sign reading "Climate Justice Now."

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This time, however, he could be facing a trial.

"I was forcibly removed using pain compliance by three members of his security detail. They arrested me and said I was being arrested for resisting arrest and obstruction of the peace," Devlin said. "I'm still being held, but they've given me my phone back."

Devlin says one officer grabbed him by the throat and applied pressure behind one ear, which he calls "pain compliance."

Because Devlin was wearing a blazer, he expects that the staffers couldn't see his shirt, with the message scrawled on it.

"Once I was at that backdrop, someone in his security detail noticed that I was wearing a T-shirt under my blazer that said 'Aylan should be here.'"

"They asked me to leave the stage. I said I'd been invited there, and I didn't want to lose my place, at which point they just used physical force to remove me from the stage," Devlin said.

"There were three of them, they grabbed—" Devlin began, before being interrupted by an RCMP officer.

"Hang up the phone, dude," the officer could be heard saying.

VICE called Devlin back after he was released, roughly a half hour later. "They've taken me to a bus stop," he said.

Devlin says he's not currently facing charges, but that the RCMP stressed that they could still prosecute him anytime within the next six months.

He says he was forcibly removed from the stage, placed in handcuffs, and then taken out a back exit.

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"They kept me in the parking lot, in the back, until they could get a car there. They said they didn't want people to see me," Devlin says.

He says one of the strange moments during his arrest came when one officer asked: "If I was from Iran," he says.

Devlin is Filipino-Canadian, and was born in Ottawa. The Philippines he notes, are "pretty far from Iran."

He says the motivation for his protest came from seeing the photo of Kurdi's body lying on that beach.

"Knowing that that family could be here right now if this government hadn't reduced the number of refugees being allowed into this country" is what pushed him, Devlin says.

Devlin also organizes activism around migrant issues, having recently launched a website aimed at documenting refugee and migrant stories.

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