On Sunday 13 September, a peaceful anti-racist rally held in Red Deer found itself violently interrupted by a group of right-wingers. Counter-protesters chanting slogans like “all lives matter”, and demanding a ban on face masks, arrived on the scene to rough up demonstrators. As the far right swung punches and pushed people around, the police let it all happen.
Even before the rally started, counter-protesters had already arrived. They quickly broke through a human wall organized by event security to prevent violence. Videos show right-wingers screaming in the faces of protesters with megaphones. A separate video shows a counter-protester barreling towards and striking a demonstrator completely unprovoked. “Within the first five minutes, at least two fists were thrown from their side,” an organizer named Baptiste said.
If you look behind the scenes, you can see that this violence was completely enabled by the local police. Red Deer RCMP were aware of the rally, yet only arrived after the far right was given ample time to rough people up. An RCMP official excused this by saying that they “didn’t expect to see what we saw on Sunday,” but this is extremely doubtful. In the days leading up to the rally, the event was subjected to a wave of online threats and harassment. The RCMP has openly acknowledged that they were aware of these threats. Their absence then must have been an active decision. Compare this to a recent situation in Edmonton where a racist demonstration developed into a brawl with counter-protesters. Here, where the far right was much more evenly matched, the police intervened almost immediately to put an end to things.
Scandalously, the RCMP initially stated that they weren’t going to investigate the attack at all. They only opened an investigation after the story broke on Edmonton CityNews and the police were subjected to mass criticism. Otherwise, they would have been more than happy to step aside and let their right-wing buddies off the hook.
The whole situation is similar to a separate incident in the town of Ponoka just a few weeks prior. During another anti-racist demonstration, one protester was hit by someone driving a truck. Local police insist that there isn’t any evidence pointing to this being a politically motivated attack, but demonstrators have been quick to point out social media posts by right-wingers calling on people to show up and “do harm.”
At a news conference two days later, a journalist asked one local RCMP officer why the police weren’t doing more to investigate local hate groups. His response? “Are you suggesting one side’s voice is more important than the others? Because it’s not. We let everybody say what they need to say as peacefully as they can.” Never mind that one of these sides is made up of thugs who have been “saying what they need to say” by beating-up anti-racist organizers. This doesn’t seem to have factored into his statement.
Both of these incidents are greatly indicative of the real role of the police. The RCMP isn’t some neutral body that shows up at these events to make sure everyone’s voice is protected. They’re an arm of the capitalist state, and reflect capitalist interests. Their main role is to protect the interests of the ruling class. This means clamping down on left-wing demonstrations while turning a blind eye to or even enabling the far right.
An injury to one is an injury to all!
The labour movement cannot stand for this. These hateful attacks on working class organizing set a terrible precedent for the whole movement. Trade unions in Alberta have the resources, mobilizing capacity and the material interest to stand up and stop these far-right hooligans in their tracks. These people need to know that they are not welcome. A massive anti-racist demonstration, organized by the labour movement would represent a huge show of force enough to totally humiliate the racist far right.
Excellent proof of this is what happened in the town of Innisfail just a few months back. During the height of the George Floyd movement, local organizers announced their own Black Lives Matter rally, but they had to delay due to online threats. After bringing the story to social media, the situation went viral and they received a massive wave of support. When the demonstration did end up happening, they garnered a crowd of 300, which is an incredible turnout for the small town of just 8,000. Racist agitators did ultimately show up, but they were swamped by the crowd and quickly left.
If a rally like this took place mostly sporadically in a tiny community like Innisfail, just imagine the potential for a similar event organized by the trade unions. But one demonstration is not enough. The organized labour movement must take an active leading role in the fight against racism and the far right. An injury to one is an injury to all. A defeat for far-right racists strengthens the working class as a whole and weakens the bosses and their political parties like the UCP who try to use racism to divide us.