Edmonton

Red Deer politicians asked to help change the tone of yellow vest protests

Red Deer politicians are being asked to intervene in ongoing yellow vest protests to make them less intimidating to immigrants to the central Alberta city.

Racist sentiments distressing to immigrants walking to nearby newcomer centre

Deirdre Ashenhurst says some newcomers are afraid to come downtown during the rallies. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Red Deer politicians are being asked to intervene in ongoing yellow vest protests to make them less intimidating to immigrants to the central Alberta city.

A letter to members of Red Deer's city council, as well as provincial and federal politicians representing the area, will be sent today, said Deirdre Ashenhurst, co-chair of Red Deer's Welcoming and Inclusive Communities Network.

The letter asks for principles of the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination, which Red Deer joined in 2013, to be upheld, Ashenhurst told CBC Radio's Edmonton AM on Monday.

"The very premise of it is to promote respect, understanding, appreciation of cultural diversity and inclusion," she said. "We're not promoting that at the moment. And we're not protecting it either."

Since November, protesters wearing yellow vests have packed Red Deer's downtown on Saturdays to call for pipelines and stricter rules on immigration while denouncing the carbon tax and the United Nations migration pact.

One block away from where the rallies are held, Central Alberta Refugee Effort Committee (CARE) offers services to newcomers, including English classes scheduled on Saturdays.

Newcomer advocates worry Yellow Vest protests are stirring up anti-immigrant sentiment. (Nathan Gross (CBC))

Many of the 1,500 newcomers who arrive in Red Deer each year are supported by CARE.

"They're expressing fear about going downtown at this time. They're afraid of the backlash from the group," Ashenhurst said.

"There's been no sign of violence from the group, I'm not going to suggest that, but there's just this atmosphere of a lack of inclusivity. And so people are sort of avoiding this space to get to the centre."

Yellow vest protesters insist that criticism about Islam, and their stance on immigration, don't make them racist. But Ashenhurst said the signs that protesters carry, many emblazoned with anti-immigration or anti-Muslim messages, create a racist atmosphere.

She hopes the letter will generate political intervention that can change the tone of the protests.

"We go forward with the demonstration for economic stability without the inclusion of minority protests," she said.

"Let's just focus on the economy and that would be fabulous."

Red Deer Coun. Ken Johnston acknowledged to CBC that new Canadians witnessing a yellow vest rally might feel unwelcome, but he stressed that sentiment does not represent the culture of Red Deer.