A scheduled anti-racism rally in central Alberta turned violent this weekend, after members of far-right hate groups disrupted it.
The event was one of several peaceful conversations across central Alberta towns and cities in recent months about anti-racism and justice.
But the conversation in Red Deer never even got started Sunday.
Video from the event showed people wearing logos of far-right hate groups disrupting the event, chanting slogans including “all lives matter” and instigating physical scuffles with attendees.
Several of the disruptors were seen wearing clothing associated with the Soldiers of Odin, a far-right white supremacist hate group with connections to neo-Nazi movements.
In videos from the scene, RCMP are seen standing between the two sides as physical violence breaks out. According to the Red Deer Advocate, nine police cars and around 15 officers were on the scene.
Kisha Daniels, one of the event’s scheduled speakers, told CityTV that despite being present, police stood by as violence broke out.
“This was a peaceful event that these people crashed and the RCMP allowed the violence to happen,” she said.
On Monday, Red Deer RCMP confirmed that no charges were laid following the event and no further investigation was planned.
Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu confirmed during a press conference Tuesday, however, that RCMP have now opened an investigation.
“I am confident that Albertans overwhelmingly reject the behaviour seen this past Sunday,” he said.
Adora Nwofor, a Black woman from Calgary, has participated in anti-racism demonstrations and conversations across rural Alberta. She told the Red Deer Advocate that the violence from the weekend was unfortunately familiar.
“I’ve been all over the province,” she said. “It seems like this is elevated from all the other protests I’ve been to … There has been verbal violence and incidents of people pushing.”
Last week, an anti-racism demonstrator in the nearby town of Ponoka was struck by a passing car. Organizers of the demonstration allege the collision was a targeted act.
“Canada must do better”
On Monday and Tuesday, municipal, provincial and federal officials condemned the violence.
Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said in a statement Tuesday, that while the city supports free expression, she is concerned by increased social tensions.
“We unequivocally denounce violence and racism,” she said. “The City recognizes that social tensions are extremely high across our country as a result of the pandemic, economy, political polarity, and competing worldviews. However, as a community it is imperative we pull together, and not apart, during adverse times. We cannot allow the actions of a few to characterize our city.”
Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley said politicians must commit to being anti-racist.
Alberta Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Leela Aheer said she was “deeply disturbed” by the events.
Federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen said officials in positions of leadership must “do better.”
“On issues around racism and discrimination, and I think it’s important to the vast majority of Canadians are now demanding that we do better in positions of leadership,” he told reporters during an unrelated event Tuesday. “Many Canadians, Black, Indigenous and people of colour experience discrimination as a lived reality and for them — Canada has to do better.”