The Alberta Legislature has become a regular meeting spot on Saturdays for two very different groups.
A group of yellow vest protesters on one side and a group of anonymous Edmontonians on the other who are concerned about a rise in alt-right groups and hate crimes have been gathering weekly since Dec. 2018.
About 50 activists showed up Saturday to the legislature to hear speakers, highlight problematic social media posts and show their support for groups who feel targeted by the yellow vest movement.
The “group of concerned citizens” as they refer to themselves in a news release, said they are not organized or connected to Antifa according to activist Mary Graham.
Antifa is a far-left anti-fascist group that is on the rise in America.
“I’m here because I am sick of white supremacy and racism and fascism having a place in this city and in this province. So I’m here to make sure those people don’t have a voice or [to] at least try to disrupt that voice,” Graham said.
According to guidelines set out by the province, the legislature grounds can be used for demonstrations at any time, however an application is needed to use the sound system and podium that is available.
Graham said in the past the yellow vest protesters have often requested permits and this was one of the few times they were held to the counter-protest position.
Jeff Sharpe was one of about 25 people who were there as part of the yellow vests. He blames the online racist comments on “trolls” and said they’re trying to make the group look bad.
“Anybody who conducts [themselves] that way, we don’t associate with them. That’s how it works right?” Sharpe said. “They’re not welcome but we can’t stop them. We can’t stop their comments.”
While the rally was mostly peaceful, one individual connected to the yellow vest protesters was taken into custody by EPS. Officers at the scene said it was for prior warrants and not connected to the rally.
The group has asked the yellow vest protestors to publicly denounce “known hate groups” like The Clann, Soldiers of Odin, Wolves of Odin and the Northern Guard among others. Graham said they would not feel the need to counter-protest if they took those steps.
New Zealand victims remembered
Organizers had planned the rally before 50 people were shot at mosques in New Zealand but in a media release on Saturday they said that act has made them more fearful.
“We fear that our governing bodies and law enforcement will disregard recently identified threats as idle talk or bluff. It takes one person to turn threats to actions to put our entire community at risk,” said the release.
Sharpe said he didn’t learn about the incident until Saturday morning and had no comment.
Adil Hasan, vice president of civic engagement with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, said this incident can’t even be called shocking anymore.
“We live in a world that has become increasingly hateful. I think it’s time for us as a society collectively to stand up and say ‘Hey, we won’t stand up for this intolerance.'” Hasan said. “I think it’s important for us to turn to our policy makers and say ‘What concrete actions are we taking to combat this?'”
Hasan wants to see more action from all levels of government as well as a review of the current hate crime legislation. He is part of the group organizing a moment of silence to remember the victims from New Zealand.
That moment of silence will be part of a press conference schedule for Monday at City Hall where the group will bring forward some policy suggestions.
Premier Rachel Notley and Mayor Don Ivenson have been invited to attend. The solidarity event will begin Monday at noon and is open to the public.
On Friday Premier Notley confirmed the province would establish a Hate Crimes Unit.
“[It will] bring together a coordinated and informed approach across police forces in the province.”
“I honestly believe that the vast majority of Albertans want to do everything that they can to rid our province of the kind of hate that generates what we saw in New Zealand,” Notley said.
The unit is expected to be established within the attorney general’s office and would act as an expert advisor and support system to police forces around Alberta.
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