Time to draw a line against racism in Edmonton

Published in Edmonton Journal on February 24, 2021

By Mustafa Farooq. NCCM CEO

On Feb. 20, as maskless men and women marched in my Edmonton bearing the torches of Charlottesville, I had a sense of homecoming.

I was born in Edmonton, raised in Edmonton. I’ve worked in the halls of the legislative assembly of Alberta, the grounds at which the rally was held last weekend. My love for this province is irrational and defies explanation.

The love of my neighbours, of my fundamentally good friends growing up, of the incredible spirit of this city, makes it easy to want to turn away from what happened on Feb. 20. Sen. Paula Simons, a good friend to this city and who wrote for this esteemed newspaper before her appointment to the Senate, exemplified this kind of perspective, as she wrote recently, “My Edmonton and my Alberta aren’t defined by a disgruntled few.”

Sen. Simons isn’t wrong. The vast majority of folks in Edmonton, whether conservative, progressive, or somewhere in the middle, happen to be some of the most incredible people you’ll meet.

But she’s also not right.

Because while the torches come out last weekend, the march of white supremacy and racist violence has been on the horizon in Edmonton since its foundation. We can no more discount what happened in Edmonton last weekend than we can discount the vast majority of good folks out there — because the good folks in our city keep letting bad things happen to those who look different, and we’ve been doing it now for more than a century.

I’m also not going to spend time talking about whether the rally was animated by racism. Even the most cursory look at the event speakers should make it obvious as to what animated their cause. The holding of tiki torches just serve to punctuate the point.

The torches may have been lit on Saturday but in 1931, the KKK lit a fiery cross on Connors Hill. The KKK also had picnics and other cross-burnings at what is now the Northlands grounds with official sanction and support from the mayor of Edmonton at the time, Daniel Knott.

In 2019, members of an organization calling itself the Wolves of Odin, but also going by the Clann, surveilled and then entered the oldest mosque in Canada, right here in Edmonton. No charges were laid.

And things like this keep happening.

I was in Edson days after an attack in 2018, where someone attempted to burn down the mosque shortly after evening prayers. The arsonist failed — but the attempt was brazen, bold, and ultimately, to the best of my knowledge, no charges were ever filed.

Throughout 2015-19, groups like the Three Percenters operated in and around Edmonton. The Three Percenters’ preoccupation with Islam and Muslims is of particular concern. The group promotes a culture of paranoia, fear, and conspiracy theories within its ranks — and are armed and dangerous. They openly express and conduct activities based on their perceived threat of Islam. The group has also made it clear that they have no reservations about using violence to protect themselves from this perceived threat if necessary. It is eerie to note that the group has in the past staked out a Calgary mosque.

In 2011, a Three Percenters member was caught plotting to bomb federal buildings in Atlanta. In March 2018, one of three men arrested for bombing a mosque in Minnesota ran a chapter of the Three Percenters.

While we and many others have pushed the federal government successfully to ban groups like Atomwaffen and the Proud Boys, it is terrifying that groups like the Three Percenters and the Clann are still allowed to exist and mobilize.

Only a few months ago in Grimshaw, a man wore what appeared to be a Klan hood.

And this is what happens. What is the responsibility of the sergeant of arms here to ensure, so closely after the attack on the Capitol in Washington, that these kind of racist rallies are shut down?

What happens when hijab-wearing Muslim women keep getting attacked in the streets of Edmonton? This is what happens.

But now it is time to extinguish the fires of white supremacist groups. We cannot allow this to keep happening or to bury our heads in the sand.

We need new federal legislation, separate from anti-terrorism legislation, that marks white supremacist groups as white supremacist groups. We need a provincial-municipal bipartisan plan to stop racist street violence and the mobilization of these alt-right groups.

It’s time to stand up for this city, for this province, to draw a line in the sand.