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Hundreds of anti-racist activists showed up at London's City Hall on Saturday for a highly organized counter protest. London police estimate that some 500 counter protesters turned out to protest a rally organized by white supremacists, Islamophobes and other hate groups who were vastly outnumbered.
Most notably, PEGIDA Canada came with signs and parade marshals dressed in paramilitary gear, earning the derision of anti-hate protesters. PEGIDA is an acronym for Patriots of Canada Against the Islamization of the West and has its origins with the German nationalist far right PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West).
Tensions ran high, with two arrests, but the rally was largely peaceful, despite provocation. One incident occurred when a white nationalist confronted a woman who was walking past him with an anti-hate banner. He began yelling at her to stop attacking him, no doubt hoping to get police involved in what was an orchestrated provocation against a peaceful protester. The woman was seen trying to get away from the nationalist, who refused to speak to rabble. In addition, when approached, a PEGIDA member in paramilitary gear also refused to speak to rabble and said his group had instructions to not converse with journalists. One anti-Islam pro-Israel protester did, however, agree to speak to rabble.
Mark Vandermaas, who is with the group Israel Truth Week, said “I'm very distressed that the mayor is dividing the city into non-whites vs whites, left vs right." This was in response to London Mayor Matt Brown's recent announcement that there was no room for white supremacists and other hate groups on city property. Vandermass sent an email to Brown and City Council stating, "it seems to me that you may be slandering many Canadians who share an honest and grave concern about the role of Islamic ideology in spreading hate and violence in the world."
As part of their mission, Israel Truth Week states that Jews are owners, not occupiers and that they are planning to train 10,000 Zionist freedom fighters to combat the "lie" of Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Vandermaas referred to counter protesters as "alt-left radicals" who have "committed numerous and serious assaults on innocent conservatives."
London District Labour Council president Patty Dalton begged to differ. "We are very concerned about the rise of racism, neo-nazism and fascism." Dalton goes on to say that many people place the origins of the rise in hate groups being connecting to the campaign and election of U.S. president Donald Trump. "We need to be sure to stand up and oppose hate. I'm just so thrilled to see so many people out in peaceful demonstration because as you know there have been many incidents of tragic and violent events that have come about because of this rise."
An important contribution to the peacefulness of the London event was careful planning and two de-escallation workshops conducted by Christian Peacekeeper Teams (CPT). CPT provided practical tools to activists to prevent violence and keep safe, both the night before the rally and the morning of. In addition, London anti-hate activists got together in the days before the rally to make signs, drums and noise makers.
A well-attended event, the anti-hate work party, held at London bookstore Bread and Roses, also helped build solidarity among the numerous groups attending Saturday's event. "I'm here to make drums and noise makers," said Roberta Cory, the chair of the Council of Canadians London chapter. "This is something we've really lacked in past protests. It's a lot of fun and of course we get some volume in our protests."
Also attending the work party was Judith McRea, the daughter of immigrants from Burma (Myanmar). "After the Second World War my father and his family were refugees. You have these white supremacists coming out, saying 'Oh, these refugees are coming in and they're taking our jobs, and I can't sit back and do nothing. If I did, I might as well sit back and join them."
London activist and urban farmer Celeste Lemire explained why she was attending the anti-hate work party. "The alt-right ... no, I don't like that term 'alt-right'. The neo-nazis and racists and the bigots will be drowned out. I want them to know that there are a lot more people against them than supporting them." Lemire sits on the steering committee of the Council of Canadians London chapter.
While there were a number of groups rallying, the issue most prominent was criticism of Islam, and positioning Islam as a violent and misogynist faith that was gradually "taking over." A woman attending the rally with her husband held a sign comparing violent quotes from the Qur'an to parts of the New Testament, neglecting the Old Testament, which is chock full of punitive violence. She withheld her name and when asked about the insignia on her and her husband's t-shirts said they were "just Christians."
She said, "Muslim people do not like Christians and do not like Jews. I don't preach hate, but they do." She went on to say that "It's so nice when we go to Toronto. There are Muslim ladies there who have found Christ, and are so grateful that they don't have to wear head scarves and can go swimming in a bathing suit." A little jaw-dropping, but not unexpected. Still, the rally and counter protest were remarkably free of violence with the exception of two arrests.
One of those arrested was Bailey Lamon, a London activist and member of the Pirate Party of Canada. She was held by police for spitting in the face of an anti-Islam protester and was later released without charge. "PEGIDA organized this rally, your typical racist, Islamophobic types," she said about an hour before her arrest and detention. "A bunch of us are here to counter that with messages of love and unity and we're just here to tell the bigots that we won't tolerate hatred in this city."
Image: Mike Roy
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