How to fight the far right as Vancouver rally looms
Citizens can protest, but expert says police and government aren't doing enough to fight far-right extremism.
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Vancouver’s mayor is encouraging residents to “confront” racism peacefully as far right groups prepare to rally at city hall on Saturday.
“I expect people to confront (hatred and racism) and to make sure there is a peaceful and direct pushback on racism and hatred,” Gregor Robertson told reporters on Aug. 15.
But one activist believes that message is dangerous because of what happened when members of the far-right, anti-Islam group Soldiers of Odin violently interrupted an anti-racism rally in March.
“I’m really upset because it’s like the city is saying it can’t do anything (to stop the rally) and is encouraging citizens to confront the fascists,” Imtiaz Popat, an organizer of the March rally, told Metro. “That’s a very dangerous situation.”
Popat believes the police need to do more to keep the two sides physically apart, a tactic he says was effective in the 1990s.
A group called the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam plans to rally at Vancouver city hall on Aug. 19. The WCAI is a splinter group of Soldiers of Odin, according to Daniel Gallant, a former white supremacist who now opposes and tracks the movement. On Facebook, the group’s members have mocked the death of Heather Heyer, the activist killed by a white supremacist in Charlottesville, Virginia, and posted racist memes and messages.
So far, 18 people have RSVPed to WCAI’s event, while 1,800 have signed on to attend a counter protest called Stand Up to Racism Metro Vancouver.
Vancouver police say they have been monitoring media reports and social media activity prior to the event and will have a presence at the event.
But looking at the wider picture of the rise in far-right extremism in Canada, Gallant says the RCMP and the Canadian government are not doing enough to combat the very real threat of the far right.
That’s leading some counter-protestors with little option but to fight aggression with aggression, said Gallant. That feeds into the extreme right’s own narratives of division, allowing them to gain political traction in labeling anti-racists as “extremists,” Gallant said.
He emphasized that non-violent protest is the most effective way to counter hate. But Gallant would like to see governments go further in shutting down hate speech: with a municipal bylaw that prevents extremist groups from holding public events, or bringing back Section 13 of the Human Rights Code. That section permitted complaints based on “the communication of hate messages by telephone or on the Internet.”
The section was abhorred by free speech advocates, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and it was struck in 2013. But Gallant argues it was effective in stifling the proliferation of hate speech on the Internet, a powerful recruiting and organizing tool.
“That is the biggest piece of legislation that’s been effective at keeping right wing extremists at bay, and the Harper government repealed it,” Gallant said.