A white supremacist flashes his swastika tattoo at counter-protesters in downtown Calgary on March 21
A local white supremacist group was greatly outnumbered when it marched through downtown Calgary on Good Friday, March 21. More than 150 people showed up to demonstrate against about 30 Aryan Guard white supremacists. But while citizen opposition to the neo-Nazi group is clearly strong, some are asking why local politicians aren’t taking a visible stand against the increasingly vocal group.
“What you’re getting is citizens making a public statement, but we’re not seeing our leaders do that and I’m concerned about that,” says Vilma Dawson, executive director of the Calgary Centre for Culture, Equity and Diversity. “[The Aryan Guard has] already held two rallies on the steps of city hall…. I would like to see our mayor make a statement, considering they’re using city hall as a means to send their hateful message.”
The Aryan Guard met at the Mewata Armoury mid-afternoon on Good Friday and marched east on Stephen Avenue to city hall. Escorted by police and dogged by counter-protesters, members of the group waved black flags emblazoned with “white pride worldwide.” (March 21 is the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, but white supremacists want to turn it into White Pride Day.)
Fast Forward couldn’t reach mayor Dave Bronconnier, as he’s currently on vacation. Ald. Druh Farrell, however, says that while the Aryan Guard’s views are “despicable,” local politicians don’t want to give the group more credibility than it deserves. “I think the best way to deal with them is to ignore them,” says Farrell. “If there are counter-protests, it just gives them a false sense of importance, I imagine.” She says city council sent a clear message when it signed onto the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities against Racism and Discrimination in 2006. “We have these principles embedded in our philosophy,” she says. “[White supremacists] don’t deserve our attention.”
Farrell says news coverage of the Aryan Guard rallies may have the unintended effect of strengthening the group. “I wonder what would happen if no one showed up, if no media showed up, if we just chose to shun them,” she says. “I think it would be deflating to them if they were completely ignored.” Council would be “obligated to speak out,” Farrell says, if the group was “growing in numbers,” but she’s not convinced it’s necessary right now. “I don’t feel threatened by them. I don’t think Calgarians should feel threatened by them.”
The strategy of ignoring the Aryan Guard doesn’t sit well with anti-racist activist Jason Devine, one of the organizers of the counter-rally. “If these people are allowed to march and they’re not opposed, that builds up the sense of pride,” says Devine. “Racists in Ontario say ‘Whoa, good for you guys. Good thing that those red, anarcho-scum didn’t show up.’ If they’re not opposed, they think they can get away with it.” He points out that there were more Aryan Guard marchers at the recent rally than previous rallies. “When the Aryan Guard started up, they had like seven, eight members,” says Devine. “Now we’ve heard that they have at least 40 members.”
Devine had a Molotov cocktail explode in his backyard last month, and he believes the incident is connected with his anti-racist activism. (No charges have been laid.) “If [Farrell] thinks people shouldn’t be afraid, she’s obviously ignorant about the real nature of these people and this group,” says Devine, whose four boys were in bed when the petrol bomb exploded, sending up a pillar of fire. “It seems to me that that same type of ostrich, head-in-the-sand attitude is one of the reasons why the Nazis were able to take power….. Yeah, that’s simplistic, but that was a factor. It was. People looked the other way.”
Ald. Joe Ceci applauds the counter-protesters for sending a strong message. “[The Aryan Guard’s] views have no home in our society,” says Ceci, who was out of town during the recent march. Ceci says if he had been in town, he would have attended the counter-demonstration. He says city council, citizens and other institutions need to say “specifically and directly” that they don’t support the group. “The Aryan Guard need to know that there are people who will stand up to their beliefs and say that they’re hateful and racist, and that any attempt to gain a foothold in Calgary will not be tolerated by them, people like me and council in general,” says Ceci, who attended a counter-Aryan Guard rally in Marlborough last August.
Dawson agrees the public opposition is important. “Some people may argue and say, ‘Well, we shouldn’t give them a platform,’” she says. “But in reality they’re still going to do their stuff whether there’s a counter-rally or not.”