RCMP are investigating after an anti-racism event in Red Deer, Alta., on Sunday became violent when organizers say counter-protesters arrived.
Videos posted on social media show that at least one person was struck by an opposing protester at what was supposed to be a peaceful gathering.
“The whole purpose of this event was to centralize and raise racialized voices and to share experiences of these different ethnicities and different walks of life,” said Cheryl-Jaime Baptise, creator of the group Red Deer Against Racism.
Before organizers had even started the event at the Rotary Recreation Park, counter-protesters showed up with megaphones.
The event’s volunteer security team attempted to build a human wall so the counter-protesters wouldn’t disturb the anti-racism gathering, but the wall was breached.
“Within the first five minutes, at least two fists were thrown from their side,” said Baptise, who identifies as Cree, Blackfoot and Ojibway.
“When everybody showed up from the opposition, they were just very, very violent and there was no way of being able to host a peaceful event so, unfortunately, we had to cancel.”
WATCH | Red Deer anti-racism demonstration turns violent:
Kisha Daniels, a co-founder of Black and Indigenous Alliance AB, said her group’s protest was scheduled for 4 p.m. at Red Deer city hall, but was moved to the park after they received “threats for our event.”
She said a person attending the anti-racism event had been serving a restraining order on a man who had arrived with the second group when he was hit in the head by a third person.
“As the gentleman decided to hand the papers, that’s when the violence first started and that was when he was first attacked,” Daniels said.
While the incident occurred before police arrived at the park to maintain order, a video of the confrontation was later shown to officers.
RCMP analysts had scanned social media before Sunday’s event to “see what the chatter might be,” said Supt. Gerald Grobmeier, the officer in charge of Red Deer’s RCMP detachment. But police weren’t expecting the event to turn out like it did.
“We certainly didn’t expect to see what we saw on Sunday. I don’t think anybody did,” Grobmeier said at a news conference Tuesday.
“We’ve had so many protests and rallies in the city since my arrival here. We’ve never seen anything like this. The city has always been really tolerant. I’d like to say that a lot of people that were here weren’t necessarily from here.”
He clarified by saying that many of those who were at Sunday’s event were from out of town and don’t have “any vested interest in the city so they can almost do what they feel like.”
Struck by vehicle
The area is no stranger to protests. Earlier this month in nearby Ponoka, just 55 kilometres from Red Deer, an anti-racism protester was struck by a vehicle during a heated demonstration.
A 38-year-old man was taken to hospital with minor injuries. Police said at the time they were investigating the collision as a hit and run.
Members of the Black and Indigenous Alliance AB who staged the anti-racism demonstration alleged the collision was targeted.
Video shows counter-protesters chanting beside the highway with protest signs; some calling for a ban on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or a prohibition on masks.
Other signs decried government corruption, Canada’s COVID-19 response or declared that “all lives matter.”
At the time, Ponoka RCMP Cpl. Mike Dillon told CBC News that advocates for the Black Lives Matter and Indigenous Lives Matter movements had been staging demonstrations in the community for weeks without incident.
“It’s a weekly occurrence but it’s the first time we’ve had the two groups at the same time, the two opposing viewpoints,” Dillon said in an interview.
In 2017, RCMP officers were called to a high school in Red Deer as more than 40 demonstrators staged an anti-immigration protest in the parking lot across the street.
Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said in an emailed statement that the city “unequivocally” denounces violence and racism in the community and that it was “highly concerning” to hear “travelling protests have incited division and violence in our city.”
In the statement, Veer went on to say that “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.”
Larger investigation ongoing
Grobmeier said RCMP are investigating what happened on Sunday. Police are asking for witnesses and any victims to come forward.
Alberta’s Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Kaycee Madu said he wants RCMP to “get to the bottom of this.
“Any time we have an incident like this, my hope is that the authorities get to the bottom of it. But more importantly, we must have the tools in place to ensure that peaceful protests do not become violent,” Madu said at a news conference Tuesday.
Daniels and others hope the RCMP follows through on their promises to work with the community and that those who were violent on Sunday are charged.
She said the weekend’s events haven’t deterred organizers from moving forward. She said any future events organized by the group will not be posted on social media and will be held in private venues.
She said the group is actively seeking a civil rights lawyer and more security for future events.
“We are all severely traumatized by these events. A lot of our group are racialized and LGBTQ2S+ peoples so we are used to levels of discrimination and violence,” Daniels said.
“It’s just unfortunate that it’s 2020 and this continues to happen.”