Contributed photo A Red Deer walk organized by the local group Red Feather Women in memory of Tina Fontaine prompted hostility from some motorists in March.

Is racism becoming more overt lately in Red Deer?

Some residents believe local bigots have become “emboldened”

When 50 Indigenous women and other supporters walked across a Red Deer bridge last March in memory of slain Aboriginal woman Tina Fontaine, participants recalled several motorists purposely speeding through puddles to splash them.

More recently, a Red Deer’s Catholic Social Services worker (who happens to be a visible minority and was helping a new immigrant open a bank account) was approached by a woman who told her: “That’s why I’m not voting for (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau, he’s bringing immigrants like you into Canada.”

An Indigenous Red Deer man recalled being shoved, kicked underwater, and verbally abused by other participants in his aqua aerobics class because he was using a floater board, due to his bad back. He recalled one man telling him: “You guys always get your way.”

These and other examples of racist encounters in Red Deer are coming out after a young Aboriginal actor publicly spoke out about racist verbal abuse hurled at him by a customer in a local McDonald’s restaurant earlier this week.

With local pickup drivers giving him hostile looks, Rosebud resident Zach Running Coyote said he was made to feel more uncomfortable in Red Deer these past three weeks than while previously living in a series of smaller communities.

Red Deer resident Lyle Keewatin Richards believes the Red Deer region has always dealt with some racism — considering the Aryan Nations and Jim Keegstra. But he believes overt prejudice has gotten worse in the past 20 month because many people are taking their cue from American president Donald Trump who has enacted anti-immigration and protectionist policies.

“They now feel emboldened,” and they are acting on what used to be privately held prejudices, he added.

Richards was the man in the aqua aerobics class. He didn’t understand at first why he was getting hostile looks, shoves and negative comments from some other, mostly senior, participants. He doesn’t believe he was crowding anyone, and he said it’s normal for some aqua aerobics participants to use floater boards.

“Then I realized I am the only brown guy in the pool.”

Richards has heard other stories from people who have also been on the receiving end of drive-by honks or verbal abuse from motorists. Having spent eight years on the Central Alberta Diversity Association, which did things like help a local merchant get rid of racist graffiti from his ice-cream store, Richards is disheartened things have come to this pass.

“It’s hard to come home and tell my daughter, ‘Why was I gone, working all those nights, when nothing has changed?’ ”

Andrea Lacoursiere, a member of the Red Deer Welcoming and Inclusive Communities Network, has also heard numerous recent complaints about racism reflecting her own experience: She was among the women who did the memorial walk for Fontaine and witnessed several motorists aim for the puddles to splash the procession.

She concludes some Albertans are bristling at having an NDP provincial government as well as a left-of-centre Liberal federal government they feel don’t represent their conservatism. But she noted these governments were elected by a majority — which hopefully means racist views are held by a sometimes vocal minority.

She encourages people on the receiving end of racism to speak up and detail their experiences on the website, which is tabulating these encounters. Lacoursiere also hopes witnesses to racism don’t become silent enablers. Richards recommends watching the YouTube video Don’t Be a Bystander: 6 Tips for Responding to Racist Attacks, which shows how to make your opposition known, without prompting a violent response.

Remza Mujezinovic, programmer for Catholic Social Services, works with settlement workers who help new immigrants get set up in Red Deer. She also thinks racism is coming out of the closet.

A co-worker recently told Mujezinovic about the intolerant comment directed at her by another bank customer.

The newly arrived immigrant the worker had been helping asked her to translate what the woman said. The worker for Catholic Social Services didn’t know how to respond, said Mujezinovic, so she told her “She wanted to welcome you to Canada.”

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