PEI

'That's not who we are': community gathers to denounce racism after Abram-Village attack

About 65 people gathered Wednesday at École Évangéline in Abram-Village for a public meeting to show support for victims of a violent attack on the weekend.

One victim has now moved out of the region, officials say

Members of the public gathered at a community meeting at École Évangéline in Abram-Village Wednesday to discuss an attack against two immigrants in the community on the weekend. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

About 65 people gathered Wednesday at École Évangéline in Abram-Village, P.E.I., for a public meeting to show support for victims of a violent attack on the weekend.

The meeting was organized by the French Daycare Association of P.E.I., where one of the two victims, both immigrants from Algeria, worked as an educator. 

"It's very, very sad. But it was very encouraging to hear everybody talk here, to see the familiar faces come together," said community member Angie Arsenault. 

The local French immigrants' group, the Coopérative d'Intégration Francophone, has denounced the attack as an act of racist violence. 

Angie Arsenault brought her own homemade sign to the meeting to show her support for the victims. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

RCMP say five people were involved in "an altercation" after a dance held as part of the four-day Agricultural Exhibition and Acadian Festival. Two men were sent to hospital and released with non-life-threatening injuries. 

People at the meeting, many parents of children at the local daycare centre, wrote messages of support on heart-shaped Acadian flags. Those notes will be hung on the walls of the daycare.

One note read in French, "We appreciate you." On another was written, "The Évangéline region welcomes you with open arms."

A woman writes a message of support on a heart-shaped Acadian flag note at the meeting. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

"Tonight was just to share, to talk, to maybe grieve a little," said Patrick Buswell, vice-president of the association.

He said some members of the board were worried there would be arguments at the meeting. Everyone who attended had to sign a waiver to say they would be respectful. 

"People were here because they wanted to be here, they wanted to listen, or they wanted to be part of the solution … to send a clear message that that kind of behaviour is unacceptable."

Patrick Buswell, vice-president of the French Daycare Association of P.E.I., said he hopes witnesses will come forward despite the fact they may be scared to. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

During the meeting, the association said that its employee who was a victim of the attack no longer feels safe in the Évangéline region and is moving out of the area.

Isabelle Dasylva-Gill, the executive director of SAFÎLE, the main voice for the Acadian and francophone community of P.E.I., said that news is not surprising.

"You have to understand that, you know, people are coming here for safety … the first reflex is to kind of get away from the danger zone," she said. 

Dasylva-Gill, who also came to P.E.I. as an immigrant in 2007, said the meeting was an opportunity to call out the attack. 

"It's reassuring in a sense and very heartwarming to see that people gathered to make known that we don't agree with that and as a community we can do better."

Isabelle Dasylva-Gill, executive director of the SAFÎLE, the main voice for the Acadian and francophone community on P.E.I., said the RCMP needs to keep in touch with the community about its investigation. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

Parent Mathieu Gallant has two children at the daycare centre. He said both his kids loved the educator who was one of the victims. 

"He was by far our kids' favourite employee … We don't know how to explain that. Because when the daycare opens again, their favourite individual isn't going to be there anymore," said Gallant.

"It's something that we're going to discuss at home between the adults and see how we're going to explain to them so that they understand." 

Mathieu Gallant attended the meeting and has two kids at the French daycare in Abram-Village. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

Buswell said in talking with parents this week, one emotion stood out. 

"I think a lot of people felt shame. Shame was a big part of what I heard and I wanted to use tonight as an opportunity to feel pride instead. Pride at, that's not what we are and that does not reflect us," he said.

"I think we were able to accomplish that tonight, and I think everybody left with a smile, even though I saw some tears during the session today."

Police still looking for witnesses

Police have not charged anyone in the attack.

The East Prince RCMP are asking anyone who knows anything about what happened to contact either Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477), or RCMP in Summerside at 902-436-9300.

Buswell said he hopes witnesses will come forward. 

"Maybe they're scared of maybe sharing information, knowing that those assailants may get back to them," he said.

"I'm hoping that those witnesses decide to stand up to intimidation, to bullying, to violence … it's so important for the healing process, but also to identify the people who were part of those appalling actions."

Community meeting a 'first step'

Dasylva-Gill said it's important that the police communicate with the community. 

"The community needs to know what's happened with that and if there are going to be any consequences, just to show that it's not pushed on a desk or anything like that," she said. 

Buswell called the community meeting a "first step" and said future action could include other community gatherings and more support for newcomers. 

The French daycare centre in Abram-Village will reopen Monday morning.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Isabelle Gallant is a radio producer and web writer who has worked for CBC in Edmonton and Toronto. She grew up in Halifax and Charlottetown and is happy to be back home on P.E.I.

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