Protesters, neo-Nazis clash at anti-racism rally

Tensions ran high at an anti-racism rally at in Calgary on Sunday as a group of white supremacists heckled anti-racism demonstrators.
Hundreds of anti-racism demonstrators gathered on Sunday in Calgary. ((Jennifer Lee/CBC))
Tensions ran high at an anti-racism rally in Calgary on Sunday as a group of white supremacists heckled anti-racism demonstrators.

An estimated 200 people gathered at city hall for the rally, organized by Anti-Racist Action Calgary, to take a stand against neo-Nazi groups in the city. But things turned ugly when a handful of neo-Nazis came to the rally, heckling and shouting at the demonstrators.

Aaron Egger, who attended the rally, said emotions were running high on both sides.

"I think the anger is understandable but I think sometimes it can be a little bit easy to go too far," he said.

"We want to be very firm in standing up in what we believe is right — and that's a society where all races are treated and viewed as equal. But at the same time we want to have an open hand as well so that we can take these people who, when they see what a dead end they're on, to welcome them back into the human family."

Some of the several hundred anti-racism demonstrators call the rally a victory. They say the fact that just a handful of white supremacists came out this year shows the movement has lost steam.

Others, including Peter Hang, are disappointed with how their fellow demonstrators reacted.

"I, personally, wouldn't have liked to see the confrontation," he said. "I think it takes away, it justifies their viewpoint, what they stand for, what they're about. I would have like to see us ignore them and kind of do our own thing."

Layton Bertsch, a member of the group calling themselves "proud Caucasians," said he's not a member of the Aryan Guard but has been part of the group as an observer.

"We came to pay tribute to our tribal ancestors," he said.

One woman who police say appeared to be with the neo-Nazi group was taken away by police for her own protection after she was surrounded by a group of anti-racism demonstrators.

A 29-year-old man was arrested at the scene and charged with assault with a weapon after someone was hit with a skateboard. A 37-year-old man was issued a summons for throwing a rock.

The incidents pale in comparison with the violent confrontation that broke out between members of the anti-racism group and the Aryan Guard during last year's demonstration. Several people were injured and police made a number of arrests.

Layton Bertsch, far right, says he and others came to the rally to pay tribute to their Caucasian 'tribal ancestors.' ((Jennifer Lee/CBC))
This year, there was a strong police presence at the rally in the hopes of preventing a repeat of last year's confrontation.

"We're trusting that the vast majority of people that are coming out will do so to get a message across peacefully," said Calgary police Chief Rick Hanson.

"We will facilitate lawful protest. We will facilitate those that wish to get their message out peacefully. The anti-racism message is one that's right across the world, so it's a strong message that needs to be out there."

The event was one of several that took place across the country to mark the UN-sponsored International Day to Eliminate Racial Discrimination.