City officials let neo-Nazis march without a permit … but let people try to stage a pillow fight and the hammer comes down
We’ve been going about it all wrong, Calgary.
Instead of holding counter marches and fostering widespread outrage, it seems the way to stop local white-power pinheads from gathering in downtown Calgary lies in a few simple pillows.
Give the neo-Nazis pillows to carry to their annual rally, and the city will immediately strike the racist contingent down with fines, threats of police charges and orders to clean up their mess.
Conversely, if you’re a fun-loving young Calgarian hoping to join other fun-loving Calgarians in a celebration of World Pillow Fight Day tomorrow, you should consider spreading hatred and intolerance for others before gathering downtown.
The city, instead of threatening you with wallet-withering fines, will instead provide a police escort, and even supply buses to take you home in comfort afterwards.
Welcome to Calgary, where neo-Nazis are made welcome, and pillow fights are crushed without mercy.
"No one asked me if I wanted to pay for a police force to protect Nazis, and I’m betting there are a lot of people who would rather pay their taxes towards helping people have a pillow fight," said Candice Vallantin.
Vallantin is the would-be organizer of Calgary’s first public pillow fight, following a tradition started in cities such as Montreal, New York, Paris, Sydney, London and Budapest.
This year, more than 100 cities around the world will celebrate World Pillow Fight Day, which sees dozens or even hundreds of people pummelling each other in good-natured combat until the feathers fly.
Last year in Vancouver, more than 700 men, women and children took part, and Vallantin — a former West Coaster — wanted to re-create the same scene in Calgary, at Tompkins Park on 17 Ave. S.W.
She started a Facebook page telling people to come to the park at 2 p.m. with their pillows, and 62 people had already joined the online group when the City of Calgary slammed its bureaucratic fist down.
Park officials called and told her to get a permit or face the consequences: No one was allowed to use a park for a gathering, Vallantin was told, without an official licence and $2 million worth of liability insurance.
As well, because she had told people about the event via a public forum like Facebook, the city said Vallantin would be held liable for damages to the park and cost of cleanup, when and if a pillow fight took place.
Of course, the heavy-handed approach took Vallantin by surprise — though she’s determined to see the pillow fight go ahead, at least unofficially. "They let Nazis march without a problem, but because I advertised, I’m setting myself up for bylaw fines and everything else," said Vallantin, who has pulled her Facebook page and officially cancelled the pillow fight, though she hopes people still show up at 2 p.m. for an "unofficial" pillow fight.
"If they’re worried about cleanup, I’ll clean it up myself," she said.
It appears to be a double standard: The Aryan Guard also advertised their march on Facebook and online, without hassle from the city.
Their efforts resulted in a permit-free rally two weeks ago, where 30 white power proponents scuffled with anti-racist protesters, with arrests and injuries. The Aryan Guard members were given police protection, and later transported by bus back to safety.
That hate-filled march, planned for months by the neo-Nazis, was allowed to proceed, while a simple pillow fight is snared in red-tape and threats.
Roger Matas, spokesman for the city’s parks department, said it’s a case of strict regulations and rules.
"This has been advertised as an organized event in a park, and that requires a permit — it’s that simple," said Matas.
Matas says Vallantin could still be on the hook as the instigator if the fight goes ahead, and it could mean fines, and involvement by police and bylaw officers.
"We’re in the realm of speculation, but there are consequences for violating park regulations," he said.
Confronting the Aryan Guard
A suspected neo-Nazi named Willis had been seen at Shaw Millennium skate park, trying to recruit kids into a racist gang. On the afternoon of July 15, a youth-based group called Anti-Racist Action (ARA) went to the park to hand out anti-Nazi pamphlets and warn skaters about Willis. Some of the kids they encountered defended the man and said he was their friend.
As the anti-racists left the park, a group of kids followed them and called out to Willis, who appeared on the balcony of a nearby apartment. He gave a Nazi salute before coming down to the street. According to members of ARA, he started punching and spitting on them. In the ensuing brawl, he broke the nose of one group member before someone knocked him unconscious.
The rumble was just the latest fight in a campaign that activists allege the Aryan Guard, a neo-Nazi gang, has been waging in Calgary. “They want to make Calgary their base and branch out from here,” says Jason Devine, a member of ARA and a longtime anti-racism activist. “You’ve got to take them seriously.”
Since first cropping up in late 2006, the Aryan Guard has built up a membership in Calgary, staged rallies and protests, and spread racist pamphlets and posters throughout the city. According to the Aryan Guard, the organization is a non-violent group that wants to protect white interests and promote white pride. Anti-racism activists, however, say it is a violent neo-Nazi organization and the community has to stop it.
NAZIS IN TOWN
The Aryan Guard first appeared in Calgary in the fall of 2006. The group was founded in part by Kyle McKee, who had previously tried to start a neo-Nazi group in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. The Calgary group held its first formal meeting in the spring of 2007, started putting up posters and distributing flyers, including one that blamed minorities for a spate of violent crime in the city.
In August 2007, the Aryan Guard crashed anti-racism protests in Kensington and Marlborough, hoisting white pride banners and Confederate flags. In October, the group held a rally of its own to protest the right of Muslim women to cover their faces while voting. On March 21, 2008, 40 members of the Aryan Guard marched down Stephen Avenue to the steps of city hall. Two hundred anti-racist protesters followed them, trying to disrupt the march and shouting at them. At the end of the march, the police separated the two groups and carted the neo-Nazis to safety on buses.
The group is particularly active in the Forest Lawn and Marlborough areas of the city, where it initially put up its propaganda posters. Anti-racism activists say its members also hang out in the Kensington area, and particularly Riley Park.
The Aryan Guard hasn’t been formally linked to any violent incidents, but anti-racist activists accuse them of several instances of harassment. Members of Food Not Bombs (an anti-poverty group that serves food in Olympic Plaza) accused two neo-Nazis of spitting on them and hurling racial slurs at the group during a serving in September 2006. In February 2008, someone attempted to firebomb Devine’s house while his four small children slept upstairs. The Molotov cocktail, however, failed to set the house on fire.
Other members of ARA have accused Aryan Guard members of taunting South-Asian cricketers in Kensington’s Riley Park. On July 27, a young black woman was threatened at Erlton Station by a five men, one with a knife, the others shouting racial slurs. The incident hasn’t been conclusively linked to the Aryan Guard. “I don’t doubt that more people have been harassed but have not reported it,” says Devine.
Kevin Brookwell, spokesperson for the Calgary Police Service, confirms that the police have received hate-crime complaints against the Aryan Guard, but doesn’t know whether any of the complaints has been proven.When planning protests, the group has co-operated with police, he says.
“They have always lets us know in advance what they are going to do. So far, the clashes that they’ve had have been able to be controlled,” he says. “Any allegations of hate crimes have been taken seriously and have been looked at.”
According to court documents, McKee and fellow group member Dallas Price have previously been arrested for assault and possession of a weapon in relation to a September 2006 brawl, and another group member was arrested for attempted murder in a separate incident. McKee’s case is closed, while Price’s is still open. Charges were stayed against the man arrested for attempted murder, Robert Reitmeier. It’s not known if the arrests were linked to Aryan Guard activity or hate crimes.
ALBERTAN HISTORY X
Neo-Nazism is not new to Alberta. In the 1980s and early ’90s, the Aryan Nations’ Canadian branch was led by Alberta-based Terry Long, who staged a major rally and cross-burning in Provost, Alberta. From 1989 to 1992, a violent neo-Nazi gang named Final Solution operated in Edmonton. In 1990, Daniel Sims and Mark Swanson, two Final Solution members, beat up retired journalist Keith Rutherford for outing a Nazi war criminal. The attack left Rutherford blind in his right eye.
In 2004, Glenn Bahr set up a neo-Nazi group named Western Canada for Us in Red Deer. Devine and the ARA informed his boss and his landlord that he was a racist, which got him fired from his job and evicted from his house. Bahr subsequently moved to Edmonton, where his house was raided by police. The police seized his computer and hate literature and he was charged with distributing hate propaganda.
Devine urges a similar approach in Calgary. “I think it would be the height of ridiculousness to sit on our hands and hope they go away,” he says. “If someone assaults you, you should defend yourself, that’s your right.”
Vilma Dawson, executive director of the Calgary Centre for Culture, Equity and Diversity, says that hate crimes are on the rise in Calgary, and people need to confront the Aryan Guard. “Their actions are bordering on promoting hate,” she says. “I’d like to hear something more from our leaders.”
ARA is encouraging community groups and citizens to oppose the Aryan Guard by telling them that they aren’t welcome in the city. Two recent forums drew crowds of 30 to 50 people to discuss the group and how to pressure its members to leave Calgary.
Three weeks ago, 20 members of ARA and their supporters went to a housing complex in southeast Calgary where some Aryan Guard members live. Over the course of a few hours, the group handed out flyers informing the neighbours of the Nazis living next door. While some residents were surprised to find out about the group, others said they had been monitoring them and calling the police. The pressure seems to have worked — the group’s activity had quieted down at the house.
Aryan Guard, anti-racism protesters clash in Calgary
Jamie Komarnicki, Canwest News Service
Sunday, Mar. 22, 2009
A member of the white supremacist group the Aryan Guard (R) yells at an anti-racist activist in downtown Calgary. – Todd Korol/Reuters
CALGARY — Downtown police called in reinforcements from nearby districts Saturday when a white pride march through Calgary’s core deteriorated into a violent melee as counter-protesters lobbed rocks and tin cans at the group.
The neo-Nazi demonstration drew swift condemnation from a downtown alderman who called the Aryan Guard rally a "completely unacceptable" move by a divisive fringe organization.
"It’s a provocative move by the Aryan Guard to try to engage in a completely unacceptable form of demonstration given the fact that Calgary does not share the values of hate and racism that they’re espousing," Ald. John Mar said.
Authorities said Saturday’s fracas showed troubling signs of escalating violence between the white supremacists and anti-racist activists.
Onlookers gaped as the confrontation between the two parties brought downtown traffic to a standstill.
Several fist fights broke out and at least two people were treated for head injuries after being hit by the projectiles, although the injuries weren’t serious.
The Aryan Guard march drew heated emotion from activists troubled by the signs of intolerance.
"I think it’s extremely important, any organization that tries to promote hatred, tries to promote a violent ideology . . . they must be opposed," said Jason Devine of Anti-Racist Action Calgary, a group that spearheaded the counter-protest against the marchers.
More than 400 anti-racist protesters confronted about 60 Aryan Guard.
The Aryan Guard waved white-pride flags and chanted slogans as they zigzagged through the inner city. Their path was blocked at several turns by the raucous anti-racist activists.
At first, 56 downtown police officers tried to control the rowdy throng; an additional 30 on-duty members were later called in for reinforcement. Authorities broke up several fights between the two sides along the way and often formed a human barricade to keep the groups apart.
The level of violence at the protest was troubling, said Calgary Police Service Insp. Rob Williams.
It’s the second year in a row that the two sides have clashed on March 21 – a date recognized as both a white pride world wide day and as a celebration for the elimination of racism.
However, the violence was ramped up at this year’s confrontation.
The protest ended only when the Aryan Guard demonstrators – encircled by jubilant anti-racists held back by police – were ushered onto a city bus and shuttled out of the core to their own transportation.
Aryan Guard member Kyle McKee said the group wanted to "celebrate white pride" during the event. The march, which attracted followers from outside of Alberta, gave the organization exposure, he said.
"We didn’t make it to City Hall, but I think a lot of people will hear about it, and on that part it’s a success."