Thousands join anti-racist demonstration at Vancouver City Hall
Thousands of people came out to Vancouver City Hall Saturday afternoon in support of an anti-racist demonstration countering a previously planned rally against immigration.
Organizers of the original rally billed it as a protest of immigration, Islam and Justin Trudeau's policies on multiculturalism. Many Metro Vancouverites and politicians, however, condemned the planned rally as an overt display of racism and white supremacy.
"Hate has no place in our community… Canadians [need] to stand up in support of immigrants. We're pretty much all immigrants," Liz, an anti-racist demonstrator at City Hall, said. "The only people that have a right to be mad at immigrants are First Nations people, and they're… here in support of an anti-racist message."
Vancouver police estimate close to 4,000 people were at City Hall Saturday afternoon and described the atmosphere is “friendly.”
Traffic was closed on West 12th Avenue from Cambie to Main Street to accommodate the swelling crowds.
Heavy police presence to keep conflict at bay
Vancouver police dealt with several heated confrontations throughout the day, but say there were no assaults and no injuries during the event.
Officers used techniques like separating arguing demonstrators by placing their bicycles in between them.
Sgt. Jason Robillard confirmed officers made five arrests for Breach of the Peace during the demonstration, and escorted another two people out of the rally to prevent disturbances.
Officers led away a man wielding a knife who had his face covered. They also escorted a man doing a Nazi salute away from the crowd.
CTV reporters also witnessed a counter-demonstrator ripping a man's anti-immigration sign. The man who ripped the sign was led away by police.
Earlier this week, organizers on both sides said they did not expect violence at the event. Concerns over the clashing demonstrations in Vancouver were heightened in the wake of the fatal “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville where a car plowed into a group of anti-racist counter-protestors, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.
Messages supporting immigration and diversity ring loud and clear
The counter-demonstration in support of immigration and diversity appears to have dwarfed the original rally, which only had 28 people listed as going on its Facebook page.
"Seeing this many people gives me hope. And it gives me courage," said Ravi Kahlon, one of the anti-racist counter-protest organizers.
The original rally involved a couple dozen people vocally opposing multiculturalism and immigration from organizations like the World Coalition Against Islam Canada and the Cultural Action Party of Canada, which seeks to promote "European-Canadian" heritage.
The organizers and speakers of the anti-immigration and anti-Islam rally were, however, notably absent from City Hall Saturday. Nonetheless, a handful of anti-immigration protestors moved among the larger pro-immigration crowd.
A man carrying a sign demanding housing services be given to Canadians first before refugees inspired a verbal argument from anti-racist demonstrators, and Twitter users captured images of a man giving a Nazi salute.
B.C. political leaders applaud anti-racist demonstrators
Several prominent B.C. politicians including Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and B.C. Premier John Horgan voiced their support for the anti-racist counter-protestors at Vancouver City Hall this week, denouncing the planned racist rally.
On Saturday morning, B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver joined them.
"I extend my sincere gratitude to the citizens of Vancouver who are peacefully standing up to racism and hate today," Weaver said in a statement.
"There remains work to be done when it comes to equality and respect for diversity," he said, mentioning Canada's own "not unblemished" history when it comes to racism with examples like head taxes for Chinese immigrants and the residential school system.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted his support for the anti-racist demonstration after it ended. "Way to go, Vancouver. Diversity will always be our strength," he said.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Breanna Karstens-Smith and Allison Tanner.