London News & Search
With tensions rising in the U.S., marches looming in London over race and culture have raised concerns about the potential for violence here.
Organizers of the opposing rallies vow to remain peaceful, but both acknowledge the prospect of confrontations.
“Tensions are very, very high, especially if you are one of the targeted persons,” Wendy Goldsmith of People for Peace London said Monday. “We are concerned about violence.”
People for Peace and the London Chapter of the Council of Canadians, a social justice organization, plan a community rally Wednesday in support of the anti-racism counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va. One woman was killed and 19 other people injured after a car plowed into anti-racists protesting a Unite the Right rally.
The London rally is set for 6 p.m. at the northwest corner of Victoria Park.
“We are really disturbed by what is happening south of the border and what we are seeing in our community, a feeling free to express hatred,” Goldsmith said. “We have to take a firm stand. It is a call to action to make it clear what kind of community we want to live in.”
Anti-racists also plan to make that stand in counter protests during a planned Aug. 26 rally by Pegida Canada London, also known as Patriots of Canada Against the Islamization of the West.
Pegida plans a noon rally that day outside city hall on Dufferin Avenue.
“Our main premise is to retain Canadian freedom and democracy, and one of our focal points is Islamization, of course,” an unnamed spokesperson said via Facebook messaging.
“The rally on the 26th will deal with what is being taught in mosques in Canada with some secondary topics as well. Our main aim in doing this is to educate the public,” the Pegida spokesperson said.
On its Facebook site, Pegida Canada says it stands for preserving and protecting Christian-Judeo based culture, but also respects other communities. Pegida also has taken to Facebook to condemn the violence in Charlottesville and Neo-Nazism.
“We have let the police know that we are having a demonstration, our aim is to get our message out as peacefully as possible,” the Pegida spokesperson said.
At a July demonstration in London, some counter-protesters “were threatening. We hope that this does not repeat itself. We are counting on our security and our police force,” the spokesperson said.
The potential for violence has People for Peace and the Council of Canadians taking special training in de-escalating situations, Goldsmith said. “Our goal is, obviously, non-violence.”
The rallies take place against a backdrop of rising emotions because of Charlottesville and persistent organized racist activity in London, said Saleha Khan, a longtime advocate for diversity, now working as an inclusion specialist with the city.
“Right now, the feelings are very anxious. People are very upset,” Khan said, stressing she was speaking as an individual advocate, not on behalf of the city.
London has a history of hardcore racist groups, most recently the Southern Ontario Skinheads, she noted.
Groups like Pegida may insist their messages are not racist, but the effect of pitting cultures against cultures is the same, Khan said.
“With that kind of mindset, it becomes so much easier for people to dehumanize certain individuals and make it easier to believe they are right and everyone else is wrong. That kind of prejudice can ultimately turn to action.”
Rallies like the one Pegida plans for Aug. 26 is “showing off and flexing their muscles,” she said.
Khan said she hoped London police were well prepared for the rallies.
Police could not be reached for comment on the issue Monday.
London News & Search