Peaceful protest can slay hate, says veteran anti-racist campaigner

Alan Dutton, the Canadian Anti-Racism Education and Research Society, outside of City Hall on Aug. 17, 2017. JENNIFER GAUTHIER / FOR METRO

By: Jen S Published on Thu Aug 17 2017

A veteran anti-racism campaigner says ignoring an anti-Islam rally scheduled for Vancouver city hall on Aug. 19 is not an option.

“It’s very important, not just for myself but for everybody in Canada, to stand up against hatred and discrimination,” said Alan Dutton, a member of the Canadian Anti-Racism Education and Research Centre. “It’s not sufficient to just let things go by.”

The Aug. 19 rally has been organized by the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam and the Cultural Action Party. Organizers’ Facebook pages display racist memes, mockery of the death of Charlottesville activist Heather Heyer, and messages such as "what the leftists and media are labelling as 'white supremacy' is in reality the collective desire of Anglo and Franco Canadians to preserve their cultural identity."

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Dutton will be at a counter-protest at city hall on Saturday, and is calling on Metro Vancouver residents to attend to demonstrate peacefully.

Dutton has been involved with anti-racism demonstrations in B.C. since the mid-1980s, and he says he’s seen the power of peaceful protest work to push racist groups to the margins of society.

Some of those past protests include a demonstration against White Aryan Resistance (an offshoot of the KKK) in the early 1990s, and a march to commemorate the life of Nirmal Singh Gill, a Sikh man killed by five white supremacists in Surrey in 1998.

The incidents illustrate that racism in B.C. is serious and can have violent consequences. But Dutton remains hopeful, because he witnessed the power of people coming together to peacefully oppose hate.

“We saw the visible decline of visible aspects of racist groups in British Columbia at the beginning of the 2000s,” Dutton said. “The reason is there was such an outpouring of concern and feeling that we could not allow racist groups to organize and recruit young people into their groups.”

When Dutton reflects on current events, “we let our attention slip,” he says. Donald Trump is a factor — but “we have to look at our politicians too.

“We did not pay attention to the recent growth of hate groups. What happened in 2013 is that the Harper government repealed one of the most important pieces of legislation that we were using to stop hate groups from recruiting online, and that was section 13.”

That section of Canada’s Human Rights Code permitted complaints based on “the communication of hate messages by telephone or on the Internet.” Free speech advocates opposed section 13, but Dutton believes the its repeal can be directly linked to a rise in hate group activity in Canada.

On Aug. 17, the City of Vancouver released a statement reiterating it cannot stop WCAI's rally: “In accordance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the City cannot prevent people from assembling on public property for the purpose of exercising their right of freedom of expression...there are limitations on free speech and that it is an offence under the Criminal Code to make statements in public which incite hatred against any identifiable group.”

Identifying hate speech is “subjective to each (police) officer,” Jason Robillard, media relations officer with the Vancouver police, said on Aug. 16.

“Each officer’s going to have to make that decision on their own or collectively as a group. It’s based on intelligence, it’s sometimes based on things you see.”