In the wake of a racist rally that turned deadly in Charlottesville, Va. the City of Vancouver is set to hold its own pair of dueling demonstrations between anti-immigrant groups and counter-protesters.
A Saturday event dubbed the “WCAI Canada/CAP rally” has been posted to Facebook by right wing media group “ProperGander Promotions,” and lists speakers from several anti-immigrant groups.
That prompted a counter rally, organized by an ad-hoc group calling itself Stand Up to Racism Metro Van.
The Facebook post for the original rally was no longer up on Tuesday, but just 11 people had originally indicated they’d attend.
By Tuesday afternoon, more than 800 said they’ll attend the counter-protest.
Lisa Descary is one of the organizers with the counter-protest, who said the group came together in the wake of the horrifying images from Charlottesville.
“Given what happened in the ‘states, that’s what happens when these right wing racists go unopposed,” she said.
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Descary said so long as groups don’t cross the line into hate speech they have the right to demonstrate, but said citizens have the right to come and tell them they’re wrong, too.
“We also have the right to show up and tell them that they’re the tiny minority. I think that some people misunderstand what free speech means, and they think it means that you can say things and other people don’t have the right to oppose you.”
Descary said her group is committed to peaceful protest and is taking steps to ensure the event doesn’t descend into violence.
In a Facebook message, Brad Salzberg who was listed as a speaker at the event with the anti-immigrant Cultural Action Party, said the event is intended as a peaceful political protest.
“This is a peaceful rally with police presence. The point of the rally is for people to come to together to oppose the behaviour of our Liberal government and its social policies for our nation.”
The City of Vancouver said it was aware of the planned events and that it was “currently working with the VPD to monitor the situation and minimize risk.”
Vancouver Police also confirmed they are aware of the planned rallies.
“We do have a process in place to assess intelligence and plan for events such as this Saturday,” said Sgt. Jason Robillard.
“We carefully weigh the needs of our citizens’ rights for free speech with the need for public safety.”
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Among the other speakers billed for the rally are the “World Coalition Against Islam” (WCAI), which led a controversial rally in Calgary back in June where members clashed with anti-racist demonstrators amid a heavy police presence.
The Canadian branch of the WCAI bills itself as a “PATRIOTS group standing against the barbarics of the ideology that is Islam,” and says it is not racist but rather opposed to an ideology.
The City of Calgary disagreed, denying the group a permit for its June event on the grounds that the group and its message were hateful.
The Soldiers of Odin, which has roots in a Finnish far-right, anti-immigrant organization, are also listed as one of the speakers.
It claims to be a community public safety group independent of its European namesake, and that members “members… don’t see colour, race or religion.”
However, a recent intelligence note from the Canada Border Services Agency raised concerns over the group’s “potential for anti-immigrant vigilantism.”