A fight at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School sparked a subsequent anti-immigration demonstration over allegations not all students were punished equally and race or religion may have played a role in last week’s incidents.
But school officials said all eight — including students from Syria — involved in two incidents were given the same punishment a five-day out-of-school suspension. One student said the fight had nothing to do with race or religion.
Waving anti-immigration signs, 40 to 50 protesters from Red Deer, Edmonton and Calgary demonstrated across the street in a parking lot near the school grounds on Tuesday morning. Red Deer RCMP kept an eye on the school and the protesters.
“We’re concerned about the accommodation in Canada for people coming into our country and political correctness,” said Stephen Garvey, National Advancement Party of Canada leader. “In this case we’re talking about young students who are getting beat up at the school by gangs of kids.
“Some of these cultures coming in are incompatible with our own.”
Some students came out to counter the protesters.
Thomas Gower, a Grade 11 student at the school, carried a sign that read: “no more hate, no more fear, refugees are welcome here.”
“The only real effect is making students feel unsafe at school at this point,” Gower said. “They’re protesting based on misinformation. “What caused this had nothing to do with race or religion.”
Ursella Khan, a Grade 11 student and a Muslim, met with protesters on the way to her car. As she spoke with reporters some protesters interrupted her and questioned her beliefs.
“They’re isolated,” she said about the Syrian students. “We need to work on helping them.
“We need to educate people like this (protesters). We need to all get together as a city and as a community. If they still don’t want to be educated or listen, then fine. I want them to know Islam, ISIS and women in hijabs is not all Muslims. I am a Muslim. I do not wear a hijab but I have read the Qur’an. Three times.”
Lindsay Thurber principal Dan Lower said the incident started at a skate park on May 15 and escalated because of a language barrier. He said one of the Syrians thought something derogatory was said towards another Syrian. The incident resumed on May 16 at school with a couple of punches being thrown.
“We were dealing with that with the parents and our translators from Central Alberta Refugee Effort and issuing consequences for that when, at lunch hour, a Canadian boy who had heard about this went out to confront and find out what happened,” said Lower. “Another incident broke out.”
School officials released a statement on Saturday after a video clip of the fight was posted on social media.
Two parents of students who attend Lindsay Thurber stood with protesters and talked about their concerns. Letisha Lyle said she is concerned for her own safety and her teen’s safety.
“There are assaults going on of our young girls. They don’t deserve this treatment,” said Lyle. “Our boys are being beat up, why?
“It’s about time us Canadians decide that we’re not going to deal with this anymore. That’s why we’re all here. I do not feel that my son is safe.”
Brenda Bell said her son was one of the students suspended.
“My son got five days suspension for jumping in to help the other boy,” said Bell. “The other two Syrian boys that jumped apparently got one day in and one day out. The principal is saying they all got equal, prove it. Prove it to me.”
People wearing Soldiers of Odin, an anti-immigration group, gear were also in attendance in support of the protesters.
Stu Henry, Red Deer Public School District superintendent, and Bruce Buruma, school district director of community relations, Lower met with protesters to answer their questions.
“We have shared the information online and I would say the comments were negative as we put those out,” said Henry. “The students were dealt with fairly and equally. We did involve the RCMP as it was a serious matter. We wanted things to be taken care of in a serious and fair manner.”
Red Deer RCMP have been involved. They say the incident may be further resolved with restorative justice measures.