Anti-racism event in central Alberta discusses injustice, while being disrupted by far-right protesters

A community conversation in Lacombe on Saturday afternoon met to discuss how racism has no place in Canada.

Around 50 people attended the event to discuss experiences with racism in the region

Kisha Daniels, co-founder of the Black and Indigenous Alliance AB, addressed the crowd at an anti-racism community conversation in Lacombe on Saturday. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

A community conversation in Lacombe on Saturday afternoon focused on how racism has no place in Canada was interrupted by self-identified members of a far-right group.

The rally, which sought to shine a light on racial inequities in Alberta, brought out around 50 physically distanced people and was organized by a coalition of various local groups including the Black and Indigenous Alliance AB and Rural Alberta Against Racism.

The event featured several speakers, including advocates from its organizing groups and local residents who told the crowd about their experiences with racism in the region.

Cheryl-Jaime Baptise, creator of Red Deer Against Racism, spoke at the event, calling for attendees to step in and act when they see injustice, and for Canadian governments to better understand the injustice racialized people in this country face.

"Racialized lives are relatively under-valued in Canada, the United States and globally, and more likely to be ended by police, and the country needs to recognize that inequity to bring it to an end," Baptise said.

The rally was held at the Lacombe Memorial Centre. Lacombe is around 25 kilometres north of Red Deer.

Once the speakers began addressing the audience, a group of about half a dozen people calling themselves the Urban Infidels disrupted the event, confronting organizers outside the park. The group began yelling, "Where are all the Black people?" at the mainly white crowd, asking why they were supporting a Black Lives Matter movement.

The group was followed closely by several police officers patrolling the event, but was ultimately left alone. They returned several times to pace the sidewalk outside the event and exchange words with the rally's organizers.

According to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, the Urban Infidels are an Alberta-based splinter group of the Soldiers of Odin, a Finnish group with white supremacist roots. The group that disrupted Saturday's rally wore black leather vests with patches, while waving the Canadian flag.

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network also identifies the Urban Infidels as a "patriot group." John McCoy, executive director of the Edmonton-based Organization for the Prevention of Violence, told the CBC earlier this week these patriot groups don't typically adhere to the same strict white nationalist ideologies as some other far-right groups, but still traffic in the same anti-immigration and Islamophobic sentiments.

Security at the rally was high in light of recent incidents at other anti-racism rallies in central Alberta.

A peaceful anti-racism event in Red Deer in September was disrupted by counter-protesters, with video showing at least one person struck by a counter-protester.

Earlier that same month in Ponoka, 55 kilometres north of Red Deer, an anti-racism protester was struck by a car during a demonstration. Members of the Black and Indigenous Alliance AB who staged the anti-racism demonstration alleged the collision was targeted.

Signs supporting Black and Indigenous lives were seen at an anti-racism event in Lacombe on Saturday afternoon. (Alicia Asquith/CBC)

Kisha Daniels, a co-founder of the Black and Indigenous Alliance AB, said she hoped people who attended Saturday's event would pick up some new information about how to live an anti-racist life and carry that with them.

Her organization was invited by citizens of Lacombe, Daniels said, to have this conversation after hearing about her group's work in other communities.

Daniels said she wasn't worried about the heavy security that was needed for Saturday's event and that recent disruptions at anti-racism events in central Alberta showed the need for her group's work.

"It encourages us to continue educating because it just clearly shows to us that there is room for this conversation, because there's a lot of misunderstanding about anti-racism and what is all involved in that," Daniels said.

A similar anti-racism event is planned for Sunday in Red Deer where hundreds are expected to participate in a peace walk.