I am well acquainted with racism. I was born in Canada when no political correctness ruled people’s thought or behaviour. I grew up in a small prairie town where the kids called me names like “Chinky Chinaman”. Some of my classmates once ganged up on me in the schoolyard, and one of the boys pounced on me as I lay prone and stuffed dry grass into my mouth. On another occasion, a blonde, freckled face boy threatened me with a rusty jackknife near my neck. The racism of the adults was more subtle. At my first job in Toronto, after riding the elevator several times, I familiarized myself with a few new faces. One day, in the elevator I greeted the woman who worked in the arts in the office next door. She turned and stared at me. She said nothing. She just stared. Afterwards, the only times she would speak to me is when she needed me to do a favour for her, like signing for a courier package when their staff was absent from their office.
These days, something far more sinister than racism infuses the public spaces. It begins with people who think they are standing up for the rights of minorities in Canada–my human rights.
A group of such social-minded people congregated at the City Hall of Vancouver on August 19, 2017, a Saturday. They gathered as counter-protesters to demonstrate against a pro-white protest rally scheduled for 2:00 PM. Anti-immigration and anti-Islam groups had organized this pro-white protest rally. One of the more level headed organizers interviewed later on Global News TV was Brad Salzberg of the Cultural Action Party. In a calm demeanor, he denied any belief in white supremacy but feared the potential imposition of Islamic ideology and Sharia law on Canadian society by Islamic immigrants. He felt European and Anglo Saxon peoples were maligned in the last 40 years or so. I think he had a good point. If in Canada every non-white ethnic group can feel free to celebrate their heritage and culture, why cannot the white people also have pride in their own histories?
I decided to show up at the protest rally to eat my corned beef sandwich on rye and to witness the scheduled anti-Islam and anti-immigration speeches, and anticipate a debate between the pro-white protesters and the counter-protesters. An ad hoc group of counter-protesters calling themselves “Stand Up to Racism” arose. By the time I arrived shortly before 2:00 PM, there was a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd gathered around City Hall. Some estimated the size of the crowd to be about 4,000 attendees. Virtually everyone there were counter-protesters all united in their hatred of the white supremacist ideology. Most of the placards showed their disfavor of anyone who took a pro-white stand: “Deport the racist,” “You were once an immigrant too,” and “Diversity = Strength”. Some placards showed much creativity. One especially stuck in my mind: “Jesus was an undocumented immigrant.”
I ate my sandwich and banana, and waited for the pro-white speakers to show up. Meanwhile, a tall, lanky black man, who appeared he might be from the Show Me State of Missouri but spoke with a Caribbean accent, stood next to me. (I shall call him Sam, not his real name.) He shared with me his fears; he sensed the crowd was out for blood. We spoke in whispers while the rest of the 4,000 or so crowd around us cheered with undulated raising of fists and shout downs of the vices and evils of the far right and white supremacy. We carried on a vulnerable conversation, an exchange of ideas. Sam said in a quiet and raspy voice, “I know what Trump ought to do to turn this thing around.” Because he asked me not to expose his advice to the President, I will not repeat what he said about his Trump solution, except to say that Sam was an unequivocal Trump supporter. I said that if I were an American and had to choose between Hillary Clinton and Trump, I would choose Trump any day. It was fortunate that I too whispered, as the Southeast Asian man, one of the two men kissing in front of us, slowly turned around and looked for who just misspoke. When he saw my face, he turned away but kept his profile with an ear toward us. I kept telling myself that Canada is a land where free speech was sacrosanct, I shall not fear. Nevertheless, Sam and I were fearful. A scuffle broke out to my right as a half a dozen or so police officers surrounded a shaven-head man in black leather pants and soon escorted him to the outer perimeter. Skinhead, white supremacist, I thought, but later discovered he was a counter-protester tearing a poster away from one of the pro-white protesters.
When it was well past 2:00 PM, there was still no sign of the pro-white speakers. Local politicians took up the mantle. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson spoke platitudes of love not violence. When it was clear that the scheduled pro-white speakers would not show up, shouts of genuine joy made its circuit around the 1936 heritage building that was the City Hall. The counter-protesters patted each other for successfully stopping the “white supremacists”. Mayor Robertson was especially beside himself with glee. He congratulated everyone for promoting love and non-violence, claiming that resulted in the no-show of the hated white supremacists. He later posted on Twitter: “Acts of hate/violence must always be met with non-violent resistance. We need to call out white supremacy/hate speech wherever it happens.” Did the Mayor realize there was no speech whatsoever from the scheduled speakers who wanted to discuss their opposition to Islam and immigration? Did he not ensure the safety of the pro-white speakers and organizers?
For the most part, the counter-protest crowd did not use violence that Saturday, but they nonetheless did scare off many of the pro-white protesters. The intimidation of a 4,000 strong mob of counter-protesters frightened away the pro-white speakers. Pro-white rally organizer Brad Salzberg admitted that he had to cancel because of the frightful size of the counter-protester crowd. The main reason for his fear stemmed from the police telling him that they could not guarantee his safety. This was the same response that the police in Charlottesville gave the White Nationalists there. Another organizer of the pro-white protest Joey DeLuca, President of the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam, echoed the fears of Salzberg. Although very upset, having travelled all the way from Alberta to speak in Vancouver, De Luca reluctantly cancelled his speech.
The intimidation tactics of the counter-protesters was evident in the case of a young man who simply held up a hand drawn picture of a green Pepe the Frog. That was enough to anger one of the counter-protesters, also a young man but dressed in black, who then ripped Pepe the Frog to shreds. Apparently, the green frog was an innocuous symbol that became a meme on the Internet, but recently counter-protesters have ascribed to the once innocuous symbol an association with white supremacists and Nazis.
An even scarier segment of the counter-protesters is Antifa (abbr. for Anti Fascists). At the City Hall rally, I saw a few clusters of the Antifa protesters dressed in black and their faces covered except for around their eyes. The Antifa gangs in Charlottesville had used violence in their counter-protest on August 12, 2017. There is now video evidence of young men clad in black and masks beating up pro white protesters who were unfortunate enough to find themselves in small groups or alone in a sea of counter-protesters. I am sure the pro-white speakers scheduled in Vancouver were aware of the violence Antifa had inflected on people they had simply labeled as Nazis or white supremacists in Charlottesville.
As I left the rally to go back downtown, I could count about five or six men, who might pass for white supremacists, milling about at the periphery of the counter-protest rally. One or two of them argued with the counter-protesters. That small number was the total number of pro-white protesters at the City Hall rally that I could see. The South China Morning Post sent a reporter Ian Young to the City Hall rally and he counted 15 persons that belonged to the “white supremacists” camp. According to Young, this group included non-whites, an Aboriginal and a Chinese Canadian. In fact, pro-white organizer Brad Salzberg is Jewish and he was too afraid to show up.
Until August 19, 2017, there was always the hope that dialogue is sufficient to win over a racist, and he could then see for himself that racism is wrong. That hope vaporized on August 19, 2017 when the majority silenced the minority. The mob ruled the day. It was not a day to celebrate, as the so-called progressive liberals would have you believe, but a day of mourning. The racist retreats into hiding to the applause of the self-righteous in Vancouver. When the city government favours the safety of one group over another in a public forum, it is abnegating its responsibility to serve and protect all equally.
Free speech died in Vancouver, Canada on August 19, 2017.