More than 4,000 people met at Vancouver City Hall this afternoon (August 19) to take part in an anti-racism counterprotest organized in response to a far-right rally publicized by the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam, a Canadian anti-Muslim group, and the Cultural Action Party, a B.C. political party that opposes mass immigration.
Arranged by local ad-hoc team Stand Up to Racism Metro Vancouver, the counter-demonstration was scheduled to begin at 12:45 p.m., just over one hour before far-right supporters were set arrive for their own event. By 12:15 p.m., however, hundreds of Vancouverites had already gathered on the south side of city hall. Many of them toted signs denouncing racism, Islamophobia, and white supremacy or offering messages of inclusion for refugees, people of colour, and immigrants.
Roadways surrounding city hall were blocked off by the Vancouver Police Department, allowing protesters to spill out onto the streets. Law enforcement officials did not intervene with the counter-rally’s proceedings and the demonstration remained peaceful. However, uniformed officers did step in during minor kerfuffles between anti-racism protesters and what appeared to be members of the far-right.
Leading up to the demonstration’s start, two individuals carrying signs with anti-immigration slogans had their signs torn in half by protesters. They were quickly escorted out of the event by police. A man sporting a Nazi Swastika pin and making a Nazi salute, as well as a man expressing anti-Muslim sentiments who engaged in a yelling match with protesters, were also escorted out by police at different times during the rally.
Moments earlier, he removed his Nazi Swastika lapel pin after counter-protestors shouted him down. pic.twitter.com/jbvXC6jcfm— Nick Eagland (@nickeagland) August 19, 2017
A man wearing a “Make America Great Again” T-shirt and a man carrying a sign that displayed the image of Pepe the Frog—an Internet meme that, in recent years, has become the unofficial mascot for the supposed alt-right—were also involved in separate confrontations with anti-racism activists. The VPD confirm that two people were escorted out of the event to prevent disturbances and that five arrests were made for breach of the peace. No assaults or injuries were reported.
Although far-right members peppered the crowd, at 2:30 p.m., it was announced that WCAI and CAP supporters, including WCAI founder Joey De Luca and the anti-immigrant street patrol group Soldiers of Odin, had failed to arrive to conduct their scheduled rally. By this time, a number of speakers, including Musqueam Indian Band member Melanie Point, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Roberston, and Richmond-based activist Edward Liu, had taken to the podium to share remarks.
These followed an Indigenous drum and song performance and an acknowledgement of the unceded Coast Salish territories on which the counter-rally was taking place. “The city will not stand for hatred, will not stand for inequality, will not stand for Islamophobia or homophobia or transphobia,” said Robertson.
Other speakers included Chief Bob Chamberlin, activist and former NDP candidate Morgane Oger, and representatives of groups such as the Pakistan Canada Association, Independent Jewish Voices, and Islam Unravelled. Vancouver city councillors Kerry Jang and Andrea Reimer were both in attendance. NDP MLA Ravi Kahlon and Stand Up to Racism co-organizer Lisa Descary delivered statements on behalf of B.C. Premier John Horgan and Vancouver East NDP MP Jenny Kwan, respectively.
Jean Swanson, an antipoverty activist and independent council candidate, also shared some words and disputed Robertson’s previous assertion that, due to free speech, white supremacists have a right to public assembly.
“I’m really inspired by the turnout today, everyone together challenging white supremacy,” said Swanson. “But the original rally we’re protesting now shouldn’t be happening in the first place. The mayor said the city must uphold free speech and allow members of the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam, a hate group, to speak and rally. I disagree.
“Free speech does not mean you have a right to hate speech,” she continued. “Free speech does not mean you have the right to gather and normalize racism. Free speech does not mean we can let hate groups gather steam, bring in more members, and continue to harm and terrorize people.”
Many other speeches called attention to Canada’s racist history and its mistreatment of First Nations people and people of colour; the need for citizens to show up at events supporting Indigenous, LGBT, and black folks; and the responsibility of white people to engage in anti-racism dialogues with their friends, family, and colleagues.
“Canada and Vancouver have a long and inglorious history of racism that no one knows better than the First Nations people,” said Sejal Lal, a member of the South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy. “We cannot oppose racism today without first expressing our solidarity with the peoples whose disposition and suffering under settler colonialism has made our presence here in this country possible.”
“Like today, it is imperative to confront, unsettle, disrupt, show up, speak up, and speak out,” stated writer Jessie Kaur Lehail. “It is not okay to be silent. It is not okay to be apathetic. Dismantling white supremacy has to be the work of white people.”
Scroll through the images below for a look at the Oppose Racists in Metro Vancouver counter-rally.