The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer sparked widespread anti-Black racism protests and rallies around the world in recent weeks. From Toronto to Iqaluit to Vancouver, Canada has been no different as crowds thousands-strong rallied against racism and police brutality.
Innisfail, Alta. — a town of just under 8,000 about an hour’s drive north of Calgary — was set to join those ranks this weekend. But a planned Black Lives Matter rally ended up being postponed indefinitely due to a wave of racist comments in the town’s community Facebook group.
Yeah, there was too much racism for the anti-racism rally.
The event is now going forward re-imagined as a community discussion on race this weekend with formal support from town council. The endorsement only came following a wave of online racism and hate directed at the original march.
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Innisfail resident Brittany Bovey posted an ad in the town’s community Facebook group for a Black Lives Matter rally scheduled for June 13. Bovey pitched the event as a chance to come together in support of Black and anti-racist efforts in central Alberta similar to other demonstrations currently being held around the world.
However, her post and others were quickly subjected to vitriol from Innisfail residents claiming “racism against white people” and denying the need for such an event in central Alberta. Bovey ended up cancelling the event due to the backlash.
“I didn’t realize there’s a rather sizable pocket of people hostile to Black Lives Matter. I now realize Innisfail isn’t really ready for a march,” Bovey told the Calgary Herald.
In a Facebook post, Bovey she she planned to postpone the rally and restructure the June 13 event into more of a community discussion, rather than a march.
Bovey did not immediately respond to HuffPost Canada’s request for comment.
Support for a Black Lives Matter event in the small town has grown since then. A new Facebook group Central Alberta Against Racism has served as a rallying point for community members to share messages of support.
In a letter to Innisfail town council, Innisfail United Church minister Darren Liepold expressed support for the rescheduled event, and called on council to do the same.
“Saying that Black Lives Matter does not mean that other lives don’t matter,” he wrote. “It means we are reaching out to those that have been excluded and inviting them home like the shepherd does.”
Innisfail is a predominantly white community. In the 2016 census, only about five per cent of Innisfail’s population identified as a visible minority compared to about 24 per cent of Alberta’s population. Only 30 people out of 7,600 in Innisfail identified themselves as Black — 0.3 per cent of the town’s population.
Similar events were held in other central Alberta communities in recent days, including nearby Red Deer, where hundreds showed up for a rally at city hall last Friday.
The town’s seal of approval
On Tuesday, Innisfail town council held a meeting regarding the event, and voted unanimously to endorse the reimagined event on Saturday June 13.
Mayor Jim Romane said there was about an hour of open discussion with other members of council, but ultimately council agreed to support the motion.
“We’re not in agreeance with any form of racism or discrimination at all, so it’s our goal to stamp that out and try to get to the bottom of this,” he told HuffPost.
This isn’t the first time Innisfail has drawn national attention, though. City councillor Glen Carritt has been active in both the “anti-lockdown” protests in Alberta and was a lead organizer with the United We Roll and right-wing yellow-vest movements .
In an interview with the Calgary Herald last week, Romane said he hadn’t seen a lot of racism in the town in the 22 years he’s sat on council, and that in his personal belief, “all lives matter.”
“Black lives matter but in my mind, all lives matter,” he said.
“All lives matter,” is a phrase that has been co-opted by opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement. Critics of the phrase note it doesn’t take into account the systemic racism and discrimination that disportionally impacts the Black community.
Speaking to HuffPost Tuesday, Romane clarified that he didn’t understand the context of the phrase.
“Golly. To me, I don’t care if you’re black, green and red or whatever. Your life means just much to me as a white person. I guess it was the wrong thing to say,” he said. “It certainly was not meant to be derogatory or take away from the Black lives.”
Romane said the whole situation shows gaps where he and the town are ready to learn. The councillor said he and his colleagues will be at Saturday’s event with the intention of “listening and learning.”
“We want to learn, we want to learn about this racism that’s supposed to be in our community,” he said.
“We want to start a dialogue with the community and get to the bottom of this because we want nothing to do with racism in our community.”