At a vigil for Charlottesville in Toronto, some speak of a difficult reality

Dozens gathered outside the U.S. Consulate in Toronto to condemn hate and show solidarity with those affected by a hate-filled, far-right rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Themes of racial violence and extremism weren't enough for Dewitt Lee to keep his 9-year-old away

Dozens gathered outside the U.S. Consulate in Toronto Sunday night to condemn hate and remember those affected by a deadly rally in Charlottesville, Va., including Dewitt Lee (middle) and his nine-year-old son (right). (CBC)

When Dewitt Lee decided to speak at a vigil for Charlottesville, Va., in Toronto Sunday night, he made sure to bring his nine-year-old son along with him. 

Lee and his son were among some 60 people who gathered outside the U.S. Consulate building a day after a car plowed through a group protesting a far-right rally in Virginia, injuring nearly 20 people and leaving one woman dead.

With candles in hand, the group assembled to remember 32-year-old Heather Heyer and to condemn the hate from which they say Canada is not immune.

But while themes like racial violence and terrorism may be out of reach for many nine-year-olds, Lee said bringing his son to Sunday's gathering was vital. 

"Especially being an Afro-Canadian, this young man he has to learn the ropes. He's getting a crash course in how to be productive and survive out here," Lee told reporters, his son's eyes transfixed on his father. 

A difficult reality

"It's absolutely critical that they're not only on the frontlines of making change. I want them to see the unity of people," he said of his son's generation.

While themes of racial violence and terrorism may be beyond many nine-year-olds, Dewitt Lee said bringing his son to Sunday's gathering was critical. (CBC)

That message of hope was coupled, though, with an acknowledgement of a difficult reality.

While the scene of hundreds of white nationalists marching through the University of Virginia campus with patio tiki torches in hand may seem like a world away, Toronto, said some, has its own battles.

"It's the hate that you don't see that you need to be worried about here in Toronto and I think that's what we have to be most concerned about," said Lee.

Mike Barber, who was among those who attended Sunday's vigil, echoed that impression. 

"The fascist violence we're seeing in the States has been happening in Canada here as well," citing Toronto's own difficult history with white supremacy. 

Barber, adding he felt a responsibility to show up, acknowledged many of those in attendance were not of minority backgrounds.

'A fight by yourself'

"For a lot of reasons they feel like there's a responsibility for white people to show up to counter white supremacy," he said.

"But there's also a factor around safety where people from racialized communities who often face a lot of violence to begin with from the state as well as these fascists, they don't want to show up out of their own concern which is completely reasonable."

Mike Barber said he felt a responsibility to show up. (CBC)

Making sure his son knows he isn't alone is something Lee says is one of the most important things to come out of the incident.

"When there's hoods and you can see the hate, it's easy ... But when it's in secret, and it's not easy to identify, that's the hardest part, because you're in a fight by yourself."

He added he's encouraged by the steps taken by various levels of government to address issues of racism in Canada.

A message of togetherness

In the hours following the deadly rally, politicians of various stripes took to social media with messages condemning the "hate."

Black Lives Matter Toronto also had a message:

For his part, Lee says he plans to speak openly about events like Charlottesville with his son and emphasize the importance of togetherness.

"I have to be hopeful for his sake, for his generation ... I want them to see how powerful we can be when we are 'We.'"

With files from Eman Bare