More urgent than ever to stand against racism, advocates say

Organizers of an anti-racism forum in Surrey, B.C., Wednesday night say the event could not come at a more urgent time.

Speakers at an anti-racism forum say neo-Nazi far right groups are becoming emboldened

Speakers at an anti-racism forum say the current political climate makes it more important than ever to stand up to racism. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

Organizers of an anti-racism forum in Surrey, B.C., Wednesday night say the event could not come at a more urgent time.

In recent weeks, signs of some political candidates were defacedby swastikas in North Vancouver. The anti-immigrant Soldiers of Odin disrupted and were later arrested at an annual anti-racism event in Vancouver in March. In Abbostford, residents rallied together after KKK propoganda was distributed in the community in January.

Indira Prahst, a sociology professor at Langara College who studies race and ethnicity, says the current environment is toxic and has revived a neo-Nazi, far right movement.

"When the social conditions change, new enemies and new fears are constructed," said Prahst, who is speaking at Wednesday night's forum.

"It is now a fear that their own well-being and their own identity is impacted, and that immigrants are somehow taking away freedom to enjoy life."

Prahst said these fears have manifested into more racist incidents against people of colour, including violent incidents.

U.S. election has had an effect: Mahil

Harinder Mahil, who was chief commissioner of the former B.C. Human Rights Commission, says while these fringe groups have always existed in Canada, the U.S. context has made things more dangerous.

"But the election of Donald Trump — and his campaign against Muslims — has emboldened these groups to come out and launch the same kind of campaigns in Canada."

Prahst says it's important that events like this one educate people that immigrants don't take away jobs and don't cause war.

"In climates of alienation, disenfranchised youth [have] this anger. That anger needs an outlet and it gets projected onto the scapegoat," she said.

Tony McAleer is a former white supremacist organizer and will be speaking at tonight's event. His path to violent extremism began with those feelings of anger and powerlessness.

"What those groups and organizations offer is a sense of belonging, a sense of meaning, a sense of purpose and that false sense of power," he said.

The birth of his daughter was the event that lead to him leaving the White Aryan Resistance and into his current position as the executive director of Life After Hate, a non-profit organization that offers support to those searching for a way out of extremist groups.  

The anti-racism forum is being held Wednesday night by the Kids Play Foundation from 6 to 8 p.m. PT at the Taj Park Convention Centre.

Listen to the segment from CBC's The Early Edition featuring Indira Prahst and Harinder Mahil: