CBC Asks: How do we respond to white supremacy? It takes a village, presenters say

It take community efforts to combat hate, presenters at a Thursday CBC Asks town hall event said.

CBC Asks town hall hears community efforts are needed to combat hate

CBC ASKS: Winnipegger Shauna-Jean Matthews shares her experience of racism with Weekend Morning Show host Nadia Kidwai. 8:29

Shauna-Jean Matthews knows all too well about the power of community in battling bigotry.

The lifelong Manitoban was in the yard of her Winnipeg home just last week when a neighbour started shouting racial slurs at her across their shared fence, but police told her they couldn't arrest the man.

"The police came and they looked at me and they said they can't do anything. They were disgusted, 100 per cent, but legally, they can't do anything," she said.

Matthews shared her experience — and what she did next — at a CBC Asks town hall event Thursday, which looked at how we should respond to white supremacy and intolerance in our community.
Shauna-Jean Matthews shared her experience of racism in Winnipeg at a CBC Asks town hall on Thursday. (CBC)

"He called me what I can only refer to as a dog, using the N-word and many terrible slurs. He did this for 20 minutes on a lovely, light evening. Children could have been out here, they could have heard it," Matthews the sold-out town hall audience.

"I had this moment of despair… you have this immediate feeling that you're alone — there is no one around you and you're just going to have to tolerate this."

Matthews posted a video of the incident online, concealing the man's face, and showed her neighbours, most of whom rallied around her.

The community expressed concerns to the man's landlord, who removed him for two days. Matthews also contacted the Residential Tenancies Branch, which she said is conducting an investigation to see if the neighbour was in violation of the Neighbourhood and Community Safety Act.

"I say that as a community … there's more of us. There's more of us than there is of them, so let's rally. And that's how I'm trying to make this work," she said.

Police officers must balance priorities: WPS

Over the last month, CBC News has reported on several incidents of racism in Manitoba, including the story of a Muslim woman from Calgary who was confronted by a man who described himself as a "Nazi" and told her to remove her "head towel" when she stopped to ask him for directions.

Matthews said she's not an expert on addressing white supremacy, but she thinks her strategy has been effective.
People clap during Thursday's CBC Asks town hall. (CBC News)

"What I'd like to see is what I've seen in my neighbourhood. We've rallied. We got together, we're freezing him out. We're kind of playing our own game of red rover where we're holding to each other tight and not letting him get through," she said.

"Neutral? There is no neutral ground here. You stay silent, that's not appropriate. That doesn't work here."

Winnipeg Police Service Const. Rob Carver said hearing stories like Matthews's made him realize the importance of balancing officers' priorities. 

WPS spokesperson Const. Rob Carver. (CBC News)

"I think we do have a voice and we can say, yes, they have a right to say that, but that doesn't mean that we as individual police officers agree with it and ourselves as service support it,'" he said.

"In all the years I've been working I've never seen it as such as a significant prominent issue as I have in the last six months. I'm a little startled ... I think everyone of my colleagues is going to have to step it up in terms of not only what the law means but what our communities expect of us."

Neighbours need to keep talking

Matthews's tactic of community rallying is one Sel Burrows knows well.
Sel Burrows, chair of the Point Douglas Residents Committee. (CBC News)

The chair of the Point Douglas Residents Committee told the town hall it was the response of neighbours — and a visit from Winnipeg police — that helped to silence a man living in the community who had been yelling racist slurs at people living nearby over the summer.

"We had to think about what we can do to protect the family and ensure that they feel welcome in the community," he said. "The number one response to white supremacy and racists is the immediate neighbours. They have to say that is not acceptable in Canada."

Manitoba catches attention of U.S. hate trackers

The series of racist incidents that have caught the media's attention and shocked Manitobans over the past few weeks has put our province on the radar of one of the world's foremost authorities on white supremacy and hate groups.

The United States-based Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) tracks hate groups and other extremists throughout the U.S., and the organization's outreach director spoke about the issue at the town hall.

Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) director of outreach Lecia Brooks, who took part in the town hall through Skype from the SPLC's headquarters in Montgomery, Ala. (CBC News)

"It saddens me, of course, to hear the stories that have been shared that are happening in your community — it saddens me when it happens here — and I'm inspired to see the number of people who have come out tonight to address it because ... it is really is up to us to say something," said Lecia Brooks, who took part in the town hall through Skype from the SPLC's headquarters in Montgomery, Ala.

"It's up to each and every one of us to take a stand against this and to call it what it is… the fact of the matter is this is white supremacy, this white nationalism, this is a push for a neo-fascist government and we need to take a stand and take a strong stand."

Brooks said Manitobans are doing the right thing by having open discussions about how to deal with racism white supremacy and warns that hate only grows when that conversation stops.

"I hope you're addressing issues early enough in Manitoba — it sounds like you are — and so I have every hope that you can push it back," she said. "Here in the States it's a much different proposition. It's going to get a lot worse here before it gets better.

"Let that be a lesson to you to keep pushing them back. Don't allow them to take over the narrative. Don't allow them to become normalized."