Canada’s federal police service is investigating after anti-racism demonstrators were attacked before a planned rally in Red Deer, Alberta.
The Sunday rally, organized by Rural Alberta Against Racism, intended to spark conversations about racism in the province. But counter-protesters stormed organizers before it began, with one throwing a punch that was caught on video.
“As we were setting up, we heard a bunch of blaring noise and honking and screaming, and we looked up and saw a convoy of vehicles coming into the parking lot,” said Kisha Daniels, co-founder of the Black and Indigenous Alliance, who was scheduled to speak at the event.
Counter-protesters left the vehicles, came toward rally security, and “decided to use violence” against them, Daniels said.
Videos posted by CityTV show demonstrators backing away from counter-protesters amid shouting matches. One counter-protester, wearing a sleeveless shirt and a white hat, sucker-punched a man in the face, and a man in a blue T-shirt shoved a retreating demonstrator.
Daniels said demonstrators went to RCMP the next morning to press charges but officers refused, saying aggression was coming from “both sides.”
RCMP Supt. Gerald Grobmeier said Tuesday the punch caught in the CityTV video happened before they arrived, and that they spoke with the victim and de-escalated the situation. He said police saw the video of a male “allegedly” assaulting another after the fact and are now investigating to determine whether charges will be laid.
“The RCMP always respects citizens’ rights to peaceful demonstration. However, we share the community’s concerns and are extremely disturbed by the behaviour depicted in the video,” he said.
Grobmeier said police were aware of plans for the rally and counter-protest before it happened, but arrived late after it changed locations.
Some rally participants held spray-painted signs saying “Peace, unity” and “Love will win,” while counter-protesters, some wearing yellow vests, carried signs saying “Free speech,” “All lives matter,” and “Support the police.”
Demonstrators continued to shout “Black Lives Matter” as they were berated through megaphones with shouts of “Antifa go home.”
“We cannot allow people like these white supremacist groups to silence us,” said Daniels. “That has been their narrative for 500 years and frankly I am tired of that narrative and I’m tired of having my kids go through that narrative.”
Daniels helped organize several peaceful demonstrations across central Alberta over the summer.
Earlier this month at a Ponoka rally, a demonstrator was struck by a driver in a hit-and-run that is being investigated by police. When anti-racist demonstrators held a news conference to talk about the hit-and-run, counter-protesters interrupted with shouting.
After Sunday’s violence, Daniels said organizers of future events will have to beef up security and stop advertising their events online. She said herself and others have received threats of violence, death, and rape from people who oppose their message.
“It’s very difficult, it’s very hard, it’s emotionally taxing. But all that says to myself and the people I work with is that Alberta absolutely needs to be able to have these anti-racism conversations,” she said.
Days before the rally, Pat King, one of the counter protesters, posted a video on Facebook of a protester being chased, knocked down and slapped, and said, “This is what is going to happen, very soon … That’s patriots kicking Antifa out of their towns.”
King told VICE News the post was not meant as a provocation of violence.
“That wasn’t a threat of violence at all, not one bit,” he said. “What it showed you was communities standing up against rioters and thugs that are definitely aligned and have been called domestic terrorists under the brand name Antifa.”.
King told VICE News he came to the rally to confront demonstrators about threats he said he has also received.
King vehemently denied being racist but has posted videos spreading racist conspiracy theories. In 2019, he posted a Twitter rant propagating the myth of “depopulation of the Caucasian race,” in which he says Anglo-Saxons have the “strongest bloodlines.”
He views the demonstrators as outsiders attacking his community, although Daniels said most of those scheduled to speak at the rally were from Red Deer. Organizers were also raising money for the city’s homeless.
Alberta officials have condemned the violence in vague terms.
At a press conference to announce the RCMP investigation, Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu said, “Alberta is a tolerant, open society where we respect our neighbours even if we strongly disagree. I am confident that Albertans overwhelmingly reject the behaviour seen this past Sunday.”
Premier Jason Kenney, who strongly condemned the pulling down of a statue of John A. Macdonald in Montreal three weeks ago, urged Albertans on Twitter to wait for the results of the RCMP investigation, adding that he denounces “any instance of racism, bigotry, or intolerance.”
Racism was in the spotlight last week in Alberta, after Black artist Jae Sterling said he and his team of mostly racialized people experienced an “onslaught of racism” while painting a Black Lives Matter mural in Calgary.
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