Many people think of Canada as a country that promotes tolerance and acceptance, but recent local events suggest this may not be the case.
This month, “white supremacist” posters found on both UNB and STU campuses, followed by an alt-right “BBQ in the Park” at Odell, have opened the floor for debate regarding discrimination and hate propaganda—as well as what can be done to prevent escalation.
One organization taking the lead in this fight against discrimination is the migrant justice group No One Is Illegal Fredericton, who counter anti-immigration and racist demonstrations through education and peaceful protests.
“Basically, [we are] fighting for dignity for all people regardless of status—whether you’re a refugee, migrant or you’re in a precarious situation where you don’t even have status,” said Iain Brannigan, one of the group’s members.
Two months ago, the group organized a rally to counter racism, fascism and white supremacy as a response to the deadly attack on people protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Earlier this year, No One Is Illegal Fredericton also coordinated a rally to protest President Trump’s travel ban, which denied people from seven (predominantly Muslim) countries from entering the United States.
“The biggest thing that we can do is educate the public, explain why [discrimination and hate propaganda] is wrong and challenge the normalization of racism [through information], and talking to your neighbours and explaining why a casual racist joke is not okay—because it snowballs from there,” said Brannigan.
On Sept. 30, a group of activists from No One Is Illegal Fredericton was preparing to counter-protest a white nationalist Canadian group called Storm Alliance at the border crossing in St. Stephen.
But the group found out that Storm Alliance was behind the planning of the anti-immigration ‘BBQ in Odell Park’. “So a crew of us that were going to go down to support the people [countering Storm Alliance] in St. Stephen ended up showing up at the BBQ,” Brannigan said.
The anti-immigration protestors were met by 12 counter-protestors that shared a message of “open hearts and open borders.”
That same Saturday, No One Is Illegal Fredericton planned a silent rally, which drew approximately 70 people around the Beaverbrook Art Gallery at 3 p.m. The goal was to take up space in Fredericton and show that the city is an inclusive community that does not tolerate hate or the normalization of it.
“The community of New Brunswick has been made up by different cultures of Indigenous peoples for millennia and has developed through immigration for centuries. The majority of people here are immigrants and their ancestors were once newcomers. We should make our communities safer by encouraging acceptance and welcoming newcomers,” Brannigan said.
This series of events led No One Is Illegal Fredericton to develop a “Myths and Facts” sheet, to debunk the most common false arguments and misconceptions found in anti-immigration and alt-right propaganda.
“We want to engage [the anti-immigration protesters] and actually ask them why they are believing in these sorts of racist anti-immigrant ideas,” Brannigan said.
According to Brannigan, one of the most common myths used by the anti-immigration groups is that migrants are taking Canadian jobs. “In reality, there is a lot of lower-paid work that people in New Brunswick aren’t really willing to do. That’s why a lot of employers need to seek migrant workers,” he said.
Another myth is that Canada does not need immigrants and is fine as it is—which Brannigan disagrees with. “New Brunswick has had a declining population since 2001; we’ve almost had 85,000 young people leave the province since then.” Furthermore, the 2016 census revealed that New Brunswick was the only province in Canada with a shrinking population.
“We need immigrants; we need people to come here,” he said. “It’s really frustrating, because all of these people who are actually saying these racist hateful [comments] are people that are middle age, white, working-class people—but in reality, who is going to be paying for their health care in a decade or two?
“There is a shrinking tax base here, and even if you want to put it in strictly economic terms, […] we need migrants to come live here, otherwise this province is just going to shrink into nothing.”