In an open letter from 17 Richmond churches published this week, immigrants and their supporters are fighting back against recent hate speech targeting Chinese immigrants.
In November, anti-immigration flyers were distributed on neighbourhood doorsteps over the course of two weeks.
The flyers claimed “The Chinese are taking over,” and that “immigration has turned into the plundering of Canada,” offering a link to a U.S. white nationalist website.
“Using words like ‘alt-right,’ those who produce and distribute these flyers have no doubt been encouraged by the recent U.S. election and the open bigotry and racism expressed there,” stated the churches’ letter condemning the hate propaganda.
“But as Canadians, we should not abandon the filters that keep us from doing and saying things that threaten the social cohesiveness of our society.”
The Richmond Presbyterian Church staged a rally Friday outside the public library, and another rally by different organizers was set to happen outside a Canada Line station Sunday afternoon.
On the Facebook group for Sunday’s rally, the event description says: “Elsewhere in the Lower Mainland, other neo-Nazi ‘alt-right’ groups have begun to show themselves as well. It is time for us to speak up! Join us at a rally to oppose racism in our communities and to show that we welcome immigrants, and that we stand united against anti-immigrant prejudice and all forms of intolerance.”
Richmond’s anti-immigration flyers are just one form of distributed propaganda this year spouting the white nationalist beliefs that have been dubbed the “alt-right.”
In October, Ku Klux Klan flyers were distributed in Abbotsford, Mission and parts of Langley.
It begs the question of how truly accepting Canadians are of immigrants and minorities, and how far the country has come since the 1970s, when immigration was brought to the forefront by policy makers.
Shouldn’t Lower Mainland residents be used to if not accepting of the region’s diversity and multiculturalism by now?
SFU criminology PhD student Ryan Scrivens says the legitimization of anti-tolerance and hate took its current shape following the ISIS terror attacks in Paris a year ago, and has been fuelled again by Canada’s aid for Syrian refugees.
“People just have this misconception of Canada being all diverse…. [It’s] not true at all,” said Scrivens, who’s studied right-wing extremism and terrorism during the past five years.
And then there’s the meteoric rise of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, who courted intolerant Americans and rode a wave of anger all the way to the White House.
“You see it a lot this year,” Scrivens said. “The whole notion of Trump allowed these people’s racist ideologies to be heard.”
A report released Friday by the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. took issue with the views some Canadians have that Canada is doing more than its share to assist refugees.
It noted Canada has just about four refugees per 1,000 population, compared to more than 20 refugees per 1,000 in Jordan, Chad, Lebanon, Nauru, Turkey and South Sudan, the report says. On the higher end, Lebanon has 208 per 1,000.
B.C. receives an average of 1,664 refugees each year, about 34 per cent of them from Syria, then Iraq (22 per cent), Iran (18 per cent), Eritrea (5 per cent), and Somalia (four per cent).
Among government-assisted refugees, 74 per cent are taking or have completed English courses, the report said.
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Other foreign immigrants make up about 25 per cent of Canada’s population, explained Queenie Choo, CEO of the immigrant support organization S.U.C.C.E.S.S.
After the flyers hit doorsteps, SUCCESS offered counselling and a hot-line to immigrants who felt affected by the hate speech.
“We are a nation built by immigrants,” Choo said. “This is our value of Canada – one that should not be dismissed, by selective few people.”
The flyers were counter-productive to integration, Choo added.
An immigrant herself, having moved to Canada 36 years ago, Choo believes only a select few support anti-immigration views.
Still, hate speech is hate speech, Scrivens said.
“Violence is one thing but the message is still there,” Scrivens said. “They’re message crimes; hate crimes.”
The flyers open up discussion on if non-white people should be part of the country, simply because of their colour, a dangerous notion, he said.
Recently, Scrivens mapped the history of “blatant racism” in Canada, noting in many cases it’s “swept under the rug” here, whereas in the U.S. it’s more likely to be documented, and owned.
In Canada, Muslims, Jews and people of colour, such as Afro-Canadians, Asians, and South Asians are particular targets for right-wing extremists, Scrivens said.
In the western provinces, aboriginal individuals and communities are common targets, and in all areas, members of LGBTQ communities may also be at risk.
Canadian extremists have more than one face
The front lines of right-wing extremism in Canada greatly differs from that of the U.S.
Primarily because of Canada’s gun laws and America’s survivalist culture, those who find themselves spreading and vocalizing the ideologies of the far right here aren’t as unified as groups in the southern U.S., for example.
While some join together, others are more like lone wolves, Scrivens said. In most cases, referring to members of the far right as “groups” gives them too much credit, he said, noting their channel for hate remains primarily online.
Canadian extremists don’t tend to voice their direct hate towards one group either, Scrivens said, but instead discuss losing their own culture and opportunities because of immigrants and minorities taking them.
Scrivens and co-researcher Barbara Perry found no fewer than 100 active right-wing extremist groups across Canada, ranging from three to over 100 members – some who’ve actively engaged in brutal violence.
Blood & Honour members in Vancouver were charged for a series of attacks in 2011, one in which a Filipino man was set on fire.
In 2011, Robert Reitmeier and Tyler Sturrup of the Western European Bloodline were convicted of second-degree murder in a deadly beating attack in Calgary.
A German-based neo-Nazi, nationalist, and anti-Islam group—the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA)— protested in the streets of Montreal in 2015, sending the message to all Canadian Muslims that they are not welcome.
The list goes on.
However, there’s some evidence suggesting aggressive behaviour, extremist rallies or protests don’t seem to fly in Canada any more, Scrivens said.
In October, Abbotsford Police were investigating after a man’s racist parking lot tirade was caught on video as he yelled “go back to India” to another man. He later turned himself in.
In 2009, about 20 Blood & Honour members protested along the streets of Calgary, while 200 anti-extremists protested their protest, Scrivens said.
Instead, groups like the Soldiers of Odin are forming in communities like Maple Ridge, where they have conducted neighbourhood watch patrols.
The groups don’t necessarily promote violence, but do perceive Muslims as ISIS-inspired terrorists, Scrivens said.
Similarly, Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan groups have existed in Canada since the 1920s, forming from frustration and anxiety in the post-World War 1 world when unemployment and inflation were rampant.
To minimize their voices, try challenging people in various outlets, Scrivens said, including on social media.
“Communities need to be resilient in responding to far right, work hand in hand with a number of agencies, youth workers, diversity workers, law enforcement, and educators,” he said. “You can’t assume this stuff is going to go away.”