Anti-maskers slammed for flying flag linked to white supremacists at Sask. war memorial

A veteran says he's disgusted that a flag associated with Nazis and white supremacists was flown during an anti-mask rally at a Saskatoon war memorial.

Concerns grow across Canada about racist overtones at anti-mask rallies

The sun cross flag, commonly used by white supremacist and Nazi groups, was flown in the centre of this anti-mask rally held in downtown Saskatoon Sunday. (Andy Tait/Twitter)

A veteran says he's disgusted that a flag associated with Nazis and white supremacists was flown during an anti-mask rally at a Saskatoon war memorial Sunday.

"I think it's totally inappropriate. I just can't comprehend why people would do this," said Al Boyce, president of the Army, Navy and Air force Veterans Unit 38.

A man at the centre of the crowd raised a large flag bearing a sun cross symbol, also known as Odin's cross. It's a symbol used for decades by neo-Nazis, skinheads, the Ku Klux Klan "and virtually every other type of white supremacist," according to the New York-based Anti-Defamation League.

The man stood with the black, white and red flag held high while speakers, including federal political leader Maxime Bernier, railed against pandemic health measures.

Boyce, whose father and four uncles served in the Second World War, said any symbols of hatred are wrong, and the protest location disrespects the memories of veterans who fought and died to keep this country safe.

An anti-mask rally was held in downtown Regina over the weekend. Rallies across the province in recent months have promoted various conspiracy theories. (Olivier Daoust/CBC)

Boyce said wearing a mask and distancing is a small price to pay for your community, compared with the sacrifices of veterans. Boyce said the whole anti-mask movement is rooted in selfishness.

"You know, you've got to be concerned about your neighbour. They're not helping their neighbour, not helping their family," Boyce said.

"To me, health officials are trying to keep us all safe, just like veterans."

Rhonda Rosenberg, executive director of the Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan, said the use of the flag is not an isolated event. Rosenberg noted the increase in anti-Asian hate incidents, as well as the racist attacks on Saskatchewan's Chief Medical Health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab. At a December anti-mask rally in Regina, a speaker at the podium drew laughs when he spoke of "these foreigners" and repeatedly made fun of Shahab's name.

"There's no question we've seen racist undertones and overtones related to the pandemic right from the beginning," Rosenberg said.

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations vice-chief Heather Bear called the flag "a slap in the face to all veterans.

"Our veterans didn't have to go to war, but they did. They fought for freedom, but they fought for equality and justice," Bear said.

"To see that mentality now on display at a war memorial is ridiculous."

Concerns about racism at anti-mask events

Concerns are growing across Canada about both the subtle and overt racism on display at the continuing anti-mask rallies. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi told Global News the rallies are little more than "thinly-veiled white nationalist" events. Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh called them gatherings for "dangerous" extremists.

Al Boyce is president of the Army, Navy and Air force Veterans Unit 38 in Saskatoon. He says anti-mask protesters disrespected veterans when they gathered at the Vimy Memorial in Saskatoon. He was particularly concerned about the flag associated with white supremacists that was flown during the event Saturday. (Stefan Nenson/CBC)

In Saskatchewan, opposition MLA Nicole Sarauer said the rally's message is offensive, but it's even worse that they're hosting events in locations designed to honour veterans.

"It's disgusting, it's wrong and it's an insult to those that fought for our freedom," Sarauer said.

Saskatoon and Regina police issued a total of more than 30 tickets to event organizers and participants. It's a marked increase compared to previous rallies, but it's unclear whether that will serve as a deterrent. Several people smiled for group photos holding up their tickets and vowed to fight them in court.

Minister of Justice Gord Wyant said anyone who doubts the resolve of prosecutors and the courts do so "at their peril." He said those who refuse to pay could have their wages garnished, their drivers licence taken away or other penalties.

"We're going to aggressively prosecute those tickets," Wyant said. "We're confident we have the tools in place. I certainly hope [violators] are aware of them."