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Innisfail anti-racism rally ends peacefully but then anger breaks out

Hundreds attend event that was thrust in the national spotlight

INNISFAIL – For 90 minutes, the town’s first-ever anti-racism rally was a model of peace, compassion and understanding.

But after the event wrapped up, anger spilled over between a sizeable group of pro-event participants and some anti-rally attendees, who were substantially outnumbered. Although there was no physical violence, there was plenty of ear-bursting roaring noise from revved up motorcycles as well as profanity-laced yelling back and forth between the two sides. As RCMP carefully kept a close watch over the verbal mayhem, Coun. Glen Carritt, a fierce opponent of the Black Lives Matter movement, was close by and eagerly blamed pro-rally supporters.

At one point, Carritt, who gave an interview Friday to Rebel Media, then came over to The Albertan and said his giving his view point to the controversial right-wing advocacy outlet was necessary because there was too much “left wing” reporting of the rally. Carritt denied he personally set up the interview the day of the event, countering he was approached by Rebel Media to do the interview.

Nevertheless, the hour-and-a-half-long rally, which started at noon and attracted about 500 citizens from all across the province, was a peaceful event at the green space near NoFrills. The rally featured several speakers, including Calgary’s Black Lives Matter proponent Adora Nwofor and Red Deer’s Teresa-Marie Cardinal and Sadia Khan.

When it was over, the event was considered a triumphant success by rally organizers and other elected town officials, including Mayor Jim Romane and Coun. Jean Barclay. The event had taken centre stage in the national spotlight all week, largely because of its location in the heartland of Alberta conservatism as well as early online backlash.

“We wish we could have had more people from Innisfail come here today, but they were scared because of the fear that has been stoked by certain individuals in this community. Shame on them,” Barclay told the audience at the end of the event. “But that fear has been drowned out by the love we’ve heard today and what you have shown us. Everyone of you is a change maker, and you are a disrupter, and I mean that in the best sense of that word.”

MVT anti racisim rallyRally participants, who far outnumbered counter protesters, exchanged heated words immediately following the official end of the rally.Dan Singleton/MVP Staff

Barclay went on to thank Brittany Bovey, the 23-year-old Innisfailian, who initiated the rally, but was ready to pull the plug on it after encountering vile racist attacks on her Facebook page. However, she pressed on after receiving an outpouring of out-of-town support, and endorsements from the Town of Innisfail and local RCMP.

“Thank you so much for what you have done for this community. You are my hero. I hope we can move forward from today. Peace and love everyone,” said Barclay.

Bovey said she was “overwhelmed” with the turnout, and is looking forward to a new wave of positive change.

“I expect the ripple effect to take precedence here in Central Alberta, and I am ready for more events and more change and new inclusive legislation,” said the shy Bovey, who stayed in the background during the event until Barclay’s salute. “I am still overwhelmed. I will probably process this in the next couple of days.

Jenny Lowe, a Calgary activist and human rights advocate who stepped up to help Bovey organize the event, considered the rally a “fantastic” success, and one that showed the “true narrative and true nature” of Innisfailians.

"It was very clear that the (opposing) rhetoric was a small minority, whereas the true nature of Innisfail residents is kind and generous and committed to change,” said Lowe, adding the success of the event should be reflective of the movement. “Which is a peaceful movement committed to change and productive conversation.”

And that was especially noted by the mayor of Innisfail. In his closing remarks to the appreciative audience, Romane said it was a “pleasure” to see so many people gather peacefully for a constructive engagement with one another. He told the audience he attended the event to listen and learn more about racism.

He also apologized to the crowed for making “ill informed” comments to the media last week about racism, and from that experience realized how little he knew about the issue.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to come here today and listen, and so I am sure I can speak for the rest of council,” said Romane, who received repeated rounds of applause from the audience. “I have learned that this discussion is not an easy one, but absolutely necessary.”

Romane concluded the town is working towards a better understanding systemic racism, and will work with the community to build a better plan to address the issue in Innisfail.

“It is in that spirit I thank you for taking part in the discussion today, and for sharing and learning with myself and each other,” said Romane.

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