It’s a fine line between exercising the right to protest and hate speech — and some city groups say certain Red Deer yellow vest demonstrators are getting precariously close to crossing it.
While most of the protesters are expressing support for the oil and gas industry, some are decrying Muslims coming into the country and accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of supporting terrorism, or Islamic Sharia law.
It hasn’t helped the group’s image that members of the white-supremacist biker group Soldiers of Odin attended a recent yellow vest rally.
“If I was a small woman wearing a hijab, passing the protesters, I would be scared,” said Frank Bauer, executive director of the Central Alberta Refugee Effort (CARE).
Yellow vest supporters have said they are pro-legal immigration and not anti-immigration. They have also called themselves concerned Canadians who love their country and all Canadians.
But Bauer is among those concerned about the “aggressive” and intimidating tone of some of the demonstrations, which leaves some citizens feeling afraid.
Deirdre Ashenhurst, co-chair of Red Deer’s Welcoming and Inclusive Communities Network, said affiliates of her group have heard dozens of complaints — not only from immigrants, but people born in Red Deer, who are uncomfortable around the strident weekly demonstrations.
One female motorist stopped at a red light in front of the protest later described feeling “set upon” by demonstrators who were urging motorists to honk, Ashenhurst added.
“I absolutely appreciate that we all have different thoughts and have the right to express them, but when this starts to impede on other people’s rights, then it’s a problem.”
For the past eight weeks, yellow vest protesters — sometimes as many as 100 — have gathered on Gaetz Avenue.
So far, these demonstrations have been “peaceful and law-abiding,” according to RCMP reports, said Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer.
But the mayor and council just received a letter from the Welcoming and Inclusive Communities Network asking for some intervention because the yellow vest protests are reportedly leaving many people afraid of going downtown.
While council is still working out a response, Veer said the city has always been welcoming and inclusive, and will continue to embrace newcomers.
Ashenhurst said she doesn’t want to prescribe what council should do, but doesn’t believe the status quo is acceptable.
Red Deer is a member of the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination — and she believes the group’s principals of tolerance and inclusion should be upheld.
Bauer concurs. He said some yellow vesters have called for assimilation into Canadian society, but argued that Canada has never been about forcing people to leave their own cultures and traditions at its borders.
He invites anti-Muslim protesters to discuss their concerns with staff from CARE and other local groups that work with immigrants.