RCMP in Alberta say they are investigating after an anti-racism rally in Red Deer turned violent on the weekend.
News footage shows counter-protesters shoving demonstrators who had gathered to denounce racism, but no RCMP officers are seen intervening.
“They just stood idly by,” rally organizer Cheryl Jaime Baptiste told Global News. “They made no effort to step in at all and it’s inexcusable.”
“Being an Indigenous woman and having 20 people with the intention of violence and hate approaching you — it’s horrifying.”
Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu said violence and threats of violence are unacceptable and he has urged the RCMP’s provincial commanding officer to get to the bottom of what happened.
“All Albertans, regardless of race, religion or creed, have the right to live their lives peacefully, and I denounce any instance of bigotry and intolerance,” Madu said in a news conference Tuesday.
“Disagreeing does not entitle one to use violence. We can and should disagree on public policy and discuss issues without resorting to violence.”
Madu said the Mounties have told him they weren’t there for the initial confrontation because protest organizers changed the location of the rally at the last minute.
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Kisha Daniels, a co-founder of Black and Indigenous Alliance AB said RCMP were well-aware of the location change, which was made in response to threats from white supremacist groups.
Daniels said she had been planning to speak at the rally about education and anti-Blackness but the event was interrupted by Yellow Vesters, Soldiers of Odin and other groups.
“We heard this loud nose, honking and sirens and screaming, and we looked up and saw a convoy of vehicles,” Daniels said. “They cloak themselves as regular folk — that’s what they try to tell people. Regular folk don’t viciously attack racialized people and their allies.”
She called what happened traumatizing, and said so far, RCMP have not reached out even though she has footage and other information to contribute to any investigation.
At a news conference on Tuesday, RCMP told reporters that there was an incident at the Rotary Recreation Park in downtown Red Deer as the anti-racism group was setting up for its rally on Sunday.
According to Red Deer RCMP Supt. Gerald Grobmeier, an initial investigation was opened following the clash between both groups on Sunday, but a larger investigation was opened once videos surfaced online.
“There was an initial investigation for one particular event — not what we saw on the video. As soon as we became aware of the video and learned there was more to it prior to our arrival, we opened up a larger investigation,” Grobmeier said.
As of Tuesday, no charges have been laid in the incident, but Grobmeier said the incidents on the video have the potential for RCMP to lay an assault charge.
RCMP have asked any witnesses to come forward.
“We need the victim to come forward, we need to obtain witness statements and we need to know who the perpetrator is,” Grobmeier said. “As we know, there is more to it than what we see on video, so we need to do a full investigation.”
In response to Madu’s comments regarding officers being unaware of the location change, Grobmeier said RCMP were aware of the new location but didn’t arrive on scene until “minutes” after the violence erupted.
“It looks like we didn’t take any action but you have to remember that the time, what was seen in the video, we weren’t there,” Grobmeier said.
“Had we been there, we would’ve taken action, I guarantee you. We certainly would’ve separated the groups, which we had to do several times throughout the protest and demonstrations.”
Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer condemned the violence at the rally. According to Veer, not everyone in attendance was from the Red Deer area.
“We unequivocally denounce violence. We unequivocally denounce racism in our community,” Veer said. “It is highly concerning for our community that the unacceptable actions of some have incited division and violence in our city.”
Veer said council acknowledges that social tensions are high due to “political polarity” and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We cannot allow the despicable actions of a few characterize our city,” she said.
Meanwhile, the rally’s organizers, who now travel with security out of fear of further violence, have vowed to continue to hold events despite the incident on Sunday.
“I don’t want to allow these hate groups to silence us because we’ve already been silenced for so long,” Baptiste said.
– With files from Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press