Woman with walker, called 'Nazi scum' by protesters at Bernier event, speaks out
'They were ... treating me like I'm a criminal,' says 81-year-old Dorothy Marston
Dorothy Marston says it was curiosity about Maxime Bernier's platform that brought her to Mohawk College in Hamilton on Sunday, but when she tried to get inside the venue where he was speaking, she and her husband found their way blocked by a line of protesters.
The row of people standing between the 81-year-old using a walker and the political fundraiser had their faces covered. Some shouted "Nazi scum off our streets" as she tried to pass and, Marston says, one person intentionally put a foot in front of her wheel, forcing her to stop.
"They were in a lineup … and treating me like I'm a criminal," she said during an interview at the Hamilton-area retirement residence where she lives.
"If I moved, they moved and they would not allow me through. They were hollering 'Nazi' and 'racist' and all this nonsense. It was more than nonsense, it was frightening in my country."
The showdown between the senior and the wall of protesters was captured in pictures and video that have been widely shared on social media, especially by People's Party of Canada (PPC) supporters decrying "Antifa" — anti-fascist protesters — for their actions.
Marston says in the moment she was "fearless," even with people yelling in her face, but once she made it into the building she broke into tears.
"I was very sad because I love my country and this is totally in opposition to what it should be," she explained.
That confrontation was just one of many outside the PPC event as people attempting to attend were met with a large group of protesters condemning the event with signs calling for immigrant rights and denouncing those heading inside.
Four people were arrested for "breach of peace" before being released without conditions, according to Hamilton police, who say more arrests are possible.
Investigators specifically pointed to the video of the protesters yelling at Marston, saying while officers didn't witness the initial confrontation once police saw what was happening they got involved and helped the couple into the building.
Alice Smith, one of the organizers of the protest, previously told CBC Hamilton that the actions by those in the video do not reflect the views held by the majority of people who came out.
"If I had been there at that spot, at that moment ... I would have stepped in to stop it, because that wasn't what we were there for," she said, adding people were there to protest against a "particular ideology" more so than a single person.
Marston's husband, Brian, said he went and got the police after one of the people blocking the couple's way intentionally walked into him as he was trying to free the wheel of his wife's walker.
Once police showed up, the protesters disappeared and they were able to make it inside.
The couple say they wanted to attend the panel discussion hosted by American YouTuber and political commentator Dave Rubin because while they've been able to learn about the other major party leaders through the media they felt Bernier was "being ignored."
But by the time they made it inside, they could only find seats at the very back, so Marston, who has trouble hearing, wasn't able to catch much of the discussion.
Marston said she isn't sure who she'll vote for and that she's still trying to learn more about the PPC, though she thinks Bernier cares about the country and offers new ideas compared to the other party leaders.
The senior says she's aware Bernier's comments on immigration have upset people, but said she also has questions about who should be able to come to Canada.
She says, in her opinion, immigration has been largely positive, but "maybe we shouldn't open the floodgates."
"I look at the Middle East and it frightens me, because there's no democracy … and the fighting in Syria and the values are different than ours," she said.
Marston, who was a social worker for 40 years, says she's not a racist or a Nazi.
"I don't care what colour, what race, nothing. What people think, that to me is what's important."
The retired couple do not have cell phones and rarely go online, so they were surprised to hear about how much attention the video has been getting.
PPC Leader Maxime Bernier even responded to a video shared on Twitter in which Dorothy makes a statement about free speech.
"We need courageous people like you if we are to keep our country STRONG and FREE," he wrote.
Thank you so much Madam for standing up for free speech! <br><br>We need courageous people like you if we are to keep our country STRONG and FREE. <a href="https://t.co/Z672PFnAFc">https://t.co/Z672PFnAFc</a>—@MaximeBernier
The couple was also unaware of an apology posted to Facebook from Soufi's, a Syrian restaurant in Toronto, which identified one of the people who blocked Marston's way as a man named "Alaa," seeming to indicate he was a family member.
"We would like to formally apologize for the unfortunate incident that occurred with the elderly woman," the statement from the Alsoufi family reads. "Alaa regrets that he did not step aside and/or stand up against the act of verbal abuse."
The post says the family is "extremely lucky and grateful" to be in Canada and respect people's opinions, but they "kindly ask that people refrain from sending abusive and/or threatening messages to our staff and family members."
CBC News was not able to confirm any connection between the restaurant and the protest. Phone calls and direct messages to the restaurant's Facebook account did not receive a response and the Facebook page was deleted sometime Wednesday afternoon.
Not looking for 'retribution'
Brian says he and Dorothy plan to meet with police Friday to talk about what happened, but said they aren't looking to get back at anyone.
"We're not after retribution. What we'd like to see is that would never happen again," he said.
The couple has no problem with people protesting and voicing their displeasure about something, but says he draws the line at "bullying and coercion."
She describes what happened as an attack on free speech, calling the entire experience shocking and insulting.
"I want to know who I'm voting for and I want to know what their values are." she said.
"It's very sad that we're not open and we don't trust the citizens enough, such as me, to hear what people who want to lead us are saying."
With files from Christine Rankin