A usually staid Sunday morning at Braid SkyTrain station became a staging ground for a multicultural rally that drew about 250 people at its peak to counter a white pride march that never materialized.
“United Against Racism and Fascism,” “Go Away KKK,” “Proud to be of the Human Race,” and “Nazi Scum Fuck Off” were among the slogans adorning the signage of those gathered under the banner of multiculturalism at the entrance to the station by 11 am — an hour before the white supremacist march was supposed to start.
As members of groups like Anti-Racist Action (ARA), No One is Illegal (NOII), Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP) milled around in anticipation of a confrontation, a few said they spotted another sign on the train platform— one that read, “Proud to be a member of the white race.”
But as quickly as it appeared, it vanished, along with the two or three people around it.
“How did our society collectively produce an adult who is of that mind frame and feels entitled to carry a sign like that and not be ashamed of it?” asked NOII activist and filmmaker Alex Mah, who said he saw the sign.
“It makes you ask those bigger questions: How did this situation come about? Who is that person surrounded by, if that [is] the influence they had in their lives?” he mused.
Mah said he isn’t under any illusions that the counter-rally for diversity was going to change the views of overt white supremacists.
“The people who are overt white supremacists, who will show up at a rally, the objective is just to shut them down, make them feel really uncomfortable and [let them know] they don’t have that entitlement to spread hate around,” Mah said.
“I don’t know what it would take to change their minds,” he admitted. Maybe a close relationship with someone who is not white, “where that changes their position,” he offered.
The only other incident that fired the crowd up was the appearance of two men, one of whom spat on a banner as he walked through the crowd and into the SkyTrain station.
Some protesters immediately followed the men into the station, calling them Nazis, which they both denied, while giving their accusers the middle finger.
They also denied any affiliation to the white supremacist group that had planned to march.
The two eventually took the escalator up to the train platform, pursued by several protesters, media and transit police.
As protesters and other media continued to press them on why they were at the station, one of the two men said, ‘Why not, it’s a public place.’
Then he said he was going to meet a buddy — “a black buddy at that. And I’m a racist too, guys. I hate every race equally,” he said.
“I don’t like gay people, that’s for sure. You can put that,” he added. “Yeah, I’m a bigot, whatever. I like lesbians, not fags.”
The second man called the gathered crowd a “bunch of haters.”
He said some masked protesters called him a Nazi after he asked them to show their faces.
The two eventually boarded a train out of the station.
At 12:45pm, organizer Maitland Cassia declared victory on behalf of those who showed up to support multiculturalism.
“Well folks, I call this a success,” Cassia shouted through a megaphone to the whoops and applause of the crowd.
Almost two hours after they assembled, protesters crowded on to trains bound for Vancouver Art Gallery, the stated destination of the white pride march.
“We weren’t here to impede them,” Cassia later told Xtra on the steps to the gallery. The white supremacists had a right to march, he said. But they weren’t prepared for this level of opposition, he maintained.
It’s important for every sector of the community to respond to white supremacy, he continued.
These people prey on marginalized youth, Cassia said, adding “people have a right to be aware when people are spreading hate propaganda.”
“We showed up with numbers, because we have numbers,” queer activist Peter Haywood said. “Just to see the diversity of people that came out today shows there’s really solidarity and resistance to these Nazi skinheads” and their ideology of hate.
Haywood, who confronted a group of suspected neo-Nazis two years ago at Eastside Pride for tearing down Pride signage, said it’s “really important to show there’s a large opposition and that we don’t tolerate this in Canada, we don’t tolerate this anywhere.”
“I was told there was going to be possible violence, and a possible retaliation, and I just wanted to be part of the movement going forward and not backwards,” added New Westminster resident Chris, who did not want his last name printed. Chris was brutally gaybashed several years ago on SkyTrain. One of his alleged attackers was charged but never convicted.
“Hatred is something that I have to put a stop to,” Chris stressed.
Xtra videographer Nathaniel Christopher was at the scene: