An estimated five thousand people jammed the area around Vancouver City Hall on August 19, effectively preventing white supremacist and Nazi groups from going ahead with plans for a racist rally against Muslim-Canadians and other racialized communities.
Initiated by an ad hoc group called Stand Up to Racism Metro Vancouver, the huge gathering came together in less than one week after the nazi violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was organized in response to news that the “World Coalition Against Islam,” together with the Cultural Action Party (a registered BC party), the Soldiers of Odin and other nazi and white supremacist groups were planning to rally at City Hall, starting at 2 pm on August 19.
While a number of fascists and Nazis did turn up, the anti-fascist rally had already brought together thousands of people, many arriving as early as noon. The nazi thugs spent their time circulating through the huge crowd, desperately trying to incite and then film confrontations, with little success. Most anti-fascist protesters simply ignored these provocations, or surrounded the nazis to block them from spreading their hate speech.
A contingent of members of the Communist Party of Canada and the Young Communist League repeatedly drew attention from fascists, who attempted to provoke an altercation. At one point, a handful of fascists unsuccessfully tried to intimidate a South Asian comrade, the organizer of the Party’s Upper Fraser Valley club, who was proudly carrying a Soviet flag. As many people pointed out through the afternoon, the hammer-and-sickle flag of the USSR was a vivid symbol of the fact that the Soviet Union, led by the Communist Party, played the leading role in smashing Hitler fascism during World War Two.
Several nazis were escorted from the scene by Vancouver city police, but later in the afternoon, fascist thugs were outside a nearby SkyTrain station, hurling threats and insults at anti-fascists and people of colour as they headed home.
The rally was supported byfrom B.C.’s new NDP Premier, John Horgan, and one of the speakers was Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. A wide range of politicians condemned the plans for a nazi rally, although the recently-defeated provincial Liberals had little to say.
The rally began with an Indigenous welcome from members of the Musqueam Band, and heard from several other Indigenous speakers, including Ren Winona from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Bob Chamberlain of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, “Grandmother Buffalo” (an Idigenous elder from Chief Dan George’s family), and Indigenous rights and climate justice activist Eagle Eyes (Gordon August).
Other speakers included Jessie Kaur (Kaur Project), Edward Liu (Richmond anti-racism activist), Haroon Khan (President of Pakistan Canada Association, and trustee of Al Jamia Masjid, BC’s first mosque), NDP MLA Ravi Kahlon (who brought greetings from Premier Horgan), trans rights activist Morgane Oger, Martha Roth (Independent Jewish Voices), a young Syrian refugee, Nour Youssef (student & Muslim social justice activist), Sejal Lal (SANSAD), Zara Liberte Aldunia (who worked with Nobel Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu), Harambecouver Parade organizer Kayode Fatoba, and Jean Swanson (anti-poverty and housing activist who is a candidate in the upcoming City Council byelection.
Plans are being discussed to build the anti-fascist and anti-racist movement on a wider basis in the Vancouver area. Some trade unions provided important logistical support for the August 19 rally, and many local activists have stressed that labour involvement is key to creating a lasting coalition around these issues.