Opinion Column

Canadian counter-protesters winning the rally war

By Steve Burgess

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) extends his hand to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada during a meeting in the Oval Office on February 13, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) extends his hand to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada during a meeting in the Oval Office on February 13, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

Is Canada different from our southern neighbour? Definitely—we spell “neighbour” with a “u.” But perhaps that's not the key issue this week. Anti-immigration rallies and counter rallies last weekend in Vancouver, Quebec City, and Boston highlighted race and immigration again. So how are we doing up here?

The anti-immigration rally held Saturday at Vancouver City Hall was a big success, if by success you mean drawing a huge crowd. There is the small fact that approximately 99.9% of the crowd were there to show their complete disagreement but nonetheless it was big. Vancouver Police issued a statement on Saturday afternoon that traffic in the area was blocked because of the “far-right rally.” That was misleading. In order to block traffic those far-right protesters would have to have been pretty fat. Or riding hippopotamuses. There just weren't that many of them. Spotting them in the crowd was like playing “Where's Neo-Nazi Waldo?”

But a similar rally in Boston the same day drew a similar response with anti-racist protesters swamping the original marchers. Meanwhile the Quebec City rally by an anti-immigrant group drew such a strong counter-demonstration that the original protesters were trapped in a parking garage. No doubt there was a shortage of reserved spaces for the morally handicapped.

In Vancouver most of the white supremacists simply didn't show up. You know how it is—some days you just aren't feeling very supreme. In fact one of the great mysteries of the white supremacist movement is whether its members ever look in the mirror. How exactly do these individuals manage to see themselves as superior beings?

Self-confidence is supposed to be a good thing but this is ridiculous. It's like seeing a garden slug with an eagle tattoo. It was great to see the big turnout in Vancouver. But it would be painfully naive to think that Canadians are somehow immune to racist rhetoric and ideas.

The last federal election showed that anti-immigrant and specifically anti-Muslim sentiment is alive and well, and of course the nation's ongoing history of discrimination against and suppression of First Nations communities is an issue that needs to be confronted every day.

Still, right now Canada is different from the US in a fundamental way—leadership. One of the few things Donald Trump has succeeded at is demonstrating the importance of leadership. His example has emboldened the far right and provided tacit approval for the ugliest tribal instincts found on the edges of the political spectrum. In that way at least we are different. Thank goodness.