New Brunswick

Governments' failure to condemn racism at protests is itself racist, says commissioner

Manju Varma, New Brunswick’s commissioner on systemic racism, says letting racist messages go unchallenged in recent protests over COVID-19 rules is itself racist.

Manju Varma scolds government for 'standing by' as fringe elements used racist symbols

Manju Varma, New Brunswick’s commissioner on systemic racism, is disappointed that messages like these were part of recent protests in Fredericton. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Allowing protesters to walk the streets of Fredericton with white-supremacist messages is itself racist, says New Brunswick's commissioner on systemic racism. 

In a statement released Tuesday, Manju Varma said she was disappointed by governments' response to fringe elements of the anti-vaccination protest held over the weekend.

"Remaining quiet while signs of white supremacy walk our streets is fundamentally racist and can never be peaceful," she said. 

Varma said she looked at material posted on social media from the Fredericton protest and found racist symbolism and imagery related to "white ethnonationalism, white supremacy, antisemitism, anti-refugee hate, and far-right extremism."

"Let me be absolutely and unequivocally clear: these are acts of violence," said Varma.

"Continuing to pretend that this 'rally' is not a cover for a maturing anti-government, anti-pluralist, right- wing movement will not combat the rising hate in New Brunswick."

Province can't take neutral stance on symbols of hate, says N.B.'s commissioner on systemic racism

8 months ago
Duration 4:51
Manju Varma scolded the province over the appearance of hate symbols and far-right extremism during weekend protests, calling them "acts of violence."

The protest drew hundreds of people to the capital's downtown on Friday and Saturday in a demonstration that Mayor Kate Rogers described as "peaceful" after the second day. The protest continued Sunday, although with smaller numbers, and a few protesters remained at the scene Monday and Tuesday.

Varma said the protest in Fredericton can't be called "peaceful" unless "every citizen feels safe and protected from needless trauma. Seeing signs such as "Don't Tread on Me" and references to the Holocaust causes needless trauma.

One of the examples that Varma found "insulting" was a sign that displayed the Star of David and compared vaccine mandates to the Holocaust. 

"For somebody who has the Holocaust as part of their personal history, that can be extremely traumatic," she said. 

Can't stand by, Varma says

"Equally, standing by while seeing references to hate, no matter how seemingly 'peaceful,' cannot be a successful venture," Varma said.

She said governments must be seen to be acting against racism, and taking a neutral approach "is to be racist." 

"Taking a neutral stance validates the so-called convoy's beliefs and legitimizes their hateful ideology as one condoned and supported by the state and forces of order," said Varma. 

Varma was appointed New Brunswick's first commissioner on systemic racism in September. (Supplied by Government of New Brunswick)

"We should always be uncomfortable when there are overt symbols of hate. You know, if the Klu Klux Klan decided to march down a city street in silence, that would still be an act of hate. So neutrality is not an option anymore," she said.

"All that's required for evil to happen — to exist — is for good people to say nothing." 

Varma was also disappointed to see New Brunswick and Canadian flags flown "either alongside those of right-wing and extremist groups or as a substitute for them."

She said research shows a "frightening" growth of hate groups in the province over the last few years.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mia Urquhart is a journalist with CBC New Brunswick, based in Saint John. She can be reached at mia.urquhart@cbc.ca.

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