RCMP investigate hit-and-run at anti-racism protest in Ponoka

RCMP are investigating after an anti-racism protester was struck by a passing vehicle during a heated demonstration Thursday in Ponoka, 100 kilometres south of Edmonton.

Demonstrators believe collision was targeted

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RCMP were called to the scene around 4:10 p.m. after a man protesting beside the highway in Ponoka was struck by a vehicle. (RCMP)

RCMP are investigating after an anti-racism protester was struck by a vehicle during a heated demonstration Thursday in Ponoka.

A 38-year-old man was taken to hospital with minor injuries. Police said they are investigating the collision as a hit and run.

A statement from organizers of the anti-racism protest said the man suffered an eye injury after being hit in the face by a truck's side mirror.

The protest, near the intersection of Highway 2A and Highway 53 in the centre of town, had turned tense when it was disrupted by an opposing group.

Advocates for the Black Lives Matter and Indigenous Lives Matter movements have been staging demonstrations in the community for weeks without incident, Ponoka RCMP Cpl. Mike Dillon said Friday.

'Two opposing viewpoints'

"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.

A second group arrived on Thursday. Video shows them chanting beside the highway with protest signs. Some called 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." 

RCMP were called to the scene around 4:10 p.m.

By the time officers arrived, the suspect vehicle had fled the area.

"Our investigation at this point, it was a person driving by," Dillon said. "There is no evidence to suggest it was a vehicle involved with the other side."

He said the incident is still under investigation and that's it's too soon to determine what occurred.

"There's lots of video going around; we're gathering evidence."

'He swerved' 

Members of the Black and Indigenous Alliance AB who staged the anti-racism demonstration allege the collision was targeted. The group plans to hold a news conference Monday outside the Ponoka RCMP detachment to release further details about the incident. 

In a statement to CBC News, alliance cofounder Callum Daniels said a passing truck swerved off the road toward protesters. The truck's side mirror hit the protester, causing the eye injury, the statement said.

"Yesterday, our group was notified of a yellow vest counter-protest taking place where we had planned to protest. These self-claimed 'patriots' said they were going to convoy from Calgary," reads the statement. 

"Later on, as we were making our way back to the rendezvous point, a truck that was coming up to us started to speed up, and as he approached us he swerved into the shoulder/boulevard to hit us."

Ashleigh Cardinal, a member of the alliance, said several people chased after the truck as it sped away. 

She suspects the incident was targeted but said she doesn't know for certain. 

"I honestly don't know," Cardinal said. "I don't know if that individual was a member of the group that was counter-protesting us or if they were just [passing by]. It all kind of just happened so fast. And I'm still in shock about what happened.

"But my own suspicion is it was somebody that saw what we were protesting for and decided they didn't like it and hit one of our members. " 

Chevi Rabbit, a human rights advocate and activist, said she saw the suspect vehicle drive away.

"I saw all these police coming in, fire trucks coming. And I thought, 'Oh, my God, something happened here,'" Rabbit said.

"And then I went to talk to the group and they were all in a panic. They were really scared because they had their family there. They had their kids there. It was a peaceful protest." 

'The online chatter speaks volumes'

Rabbit said posts circulating online in the days before the demonstration urged counter-protesters to show up and "do harm."

"I don't think it was a basic hit and run," Rabbit said. "The online chatter speaks volumes."

Rabbit is planning a peace rally set for next Wednesday in Ponoka. She hopes the incident will help raise awareness and encourage a broader conversation about racism and discrimination in Alberta..

"We need to make sure that our communities are safe, inclusive, and that the next generation doesn't have to experience this kind of hate."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca.