Edmonton

Red Deer school moves forward after anti-immigrant protest

Students are back in class after a fight ended in eight suspensions but escalated into an anti-immigrant protest in Red Deer.

'I think people are realizing that this is not okay and we need to take action,' says Grade 11 student

Life is returning to normal at Lindsay Thurber high school after Tuesday's anti-immigrant protest. (CBC)

Students are back in class at a Red Deer high school after a fight resulted in multiple suspensions but escalated into an anti-immigrant protest when false information was spread on social media.

"We're trying to get back to business as usual," said Bruce Buruma, spokesperson for Red Deer Public Schools. "The protest — that's what made students feel unsafe. That changed the day of the school, that changed the culture of the school. We just want to get back to normal as quickly as possible."

Before returning to class, the suspended students and their parents met with school staff "to make sure that people understand what's expected" and "address any concerns," said Buruma.

On Tuesday, more than 40 protesters demonstrated near Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School over false claims made on social media that Syrian students involved in two fights last week weren't as harshly disciplined as other students.

Demonstrators also called for the protection of "Canadian values" and expressed concern about the violence and safety of students.
Members of the Soldiers of Odin at Tuesday's protest. (CBC)

While some local parents took part in the demonstration, people also traveled in from Edmonton and Calgary. Members of the Soldiers of Odin, a group with white supremacist ties, were also in the crowd.

Grade 11 student Ursella Khan said Tuesday's protest, and the events leading up to it, highlight the need to improve integration and understanding of newcomers.

Khan, 16, was widely praised for her courage and composure after she stood up to protesters Tuesday. She called for improvements to integration and defended Canadian immigration and Islam as she was drilled with questions: "Do you support Sharia? Do you eat halal?"
The grade 11 student at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School in Red Deer, Alta. says newcomers in the school need their support. 1:03

"This is kind of turning into a positive thing now," Khan told CBC News on Thursday. "I think people are realizing that this is not okay and we need to take action."

She hopes to arrange a town hall for Red Deer community members to engage in open, friendly dialogue around the issues raised at the protest.

In a Facebook post, Premier Rachel Notley praised the 38 RCMP officers policing the event and students such as Khan who spoke up.

The Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, a group that tracks Islamophobic incidents, said parents or students of any faith "who feel traumatized due to recent events" can contact their organization for counseling and support.

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca    @andreahuncar