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This article was published 9/9/2017 (286 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Anti-fascist chants rang out through the air outside the CBC building at Portage Avenue and Spence Street Saturday afternoon as more than 200 people rallied in a show of solidarity against a cancelled "anti-immigration" protest.
Representatives from organized labour, religious groups, and Indigenous, racialized and LGBT peoples, mingled in the crowd with anti-fascist organizers, many holding banners and placards, or waving flags, as they rallied to promote a message of diversity and opposition to far-right organizing in Winnipeg.
Passing vehicles occasionally honked their horns in support of the protest, to which the crowd responded with loud cheers and chants of "No safe space for hate!"
Jesse Wielenga, a 30-year-old Brandon man with alleged neo-Nazi sympathies and the vice-president of the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam, announced last month his plans to hold an "anti-immigration" rally in Winnipeg on Sept. 9.
Local anti-fascist organizers quickly mobilized to hold a counter-demonstration. Despite news Friday that Wielenga cancelled the original protest, organizers decided to hold the counter-demonstration anyways.
"It didn't really surprise me that Wielenga and the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam cancelled," said Helmut-Harry Loewen, an anti-fascist activist and former sociology professor at the University of Winnipeg with a specialization in neo-fascism.
Wielenga has previously denied accusations he's a fascist to the Free Press, but screen shots show he's referenced neo-Nazi slogans and ideas in social media posts.
Loewen said Manitoba based far-right activists, many of whom operate in Winnipeg, have become emboldened over the past year as their masks slip away.
"They used to be more reserved with their Islamophobia and references to neo-Nazi slogans and ideas. But lately, that seems to be slipping away as their message becomes more overt. There's been an escalation since earlier this year, which is very concerning," Loewen said.
As a number of anti-fascist organizers addressed the crowd around 12:30 p.m., a man with a bullhorn — representing Winnipeg Alternative Media (WAM) — began a demonstration outside the CBC to oppose what he called the "fake news" of the mainstream media. He was soon joined by a few other likeminded individuals — numbering five in total.
A portion of the original anti-fascist demonstration broke away from the main group to confront the WAM protest.
A crowd of about 40 people followed the WAM activists down Portage Avenue, occasionally spilling out onto the street, as the original protestor shouted through a bullhorn that he was here to fight a "culture war, not a race war."
In response, counter-protestors shouted "Fascists" and "Go home racists" in unison.
As the crowd followed the WAM activists for a number of blocks down side streets, two young girls could be seen standing on their front porch, their faces concerned and confused, as the group made its way through their street. Another young child, biking down the sidewalk, stopped to ask the crowd what was going on.
Eventually the group stopped, as a WAM activist live-streamed conversations between himself and counter-demonstrators.
Two members of the Winnipeg Police Service arrived shortly after, suggesting to WAM activists that they leave in their vehicle which was parked on the side of the street.
At 1 p.m., the counter-protestors cheered as all but one WAM activist got into the car and drove away. The remaining WAM activist, holding a Canadian flag above his head in the middle of the street, was largely ignored by counter-protestors as they walked back to meet up with the rest of the demonstration.
Screen shots from social media on the video live-streamed by the WAM activist shows one individual, posting under the name Alex Bradford, commented: "Run them over. Go back and be martyrs."
The group of counter-protestors re-joined the main demonstration shortly after, before marching through the streets to meet up with a pro-diversity rally being held at the Manitoba Legislative Building at 2 p.m.
As the crowd made it's way down Portage Avenue two black police SUVs blocked oncoming traffic. Some protestors leading the march had their faces covered with bandannas and were holding red flags.
Chants of "Peg city don't play," "No hate," and "Whose streets? Our streets!" were shouted as two people set off smoke bombs which plumed red flares into the air.
"The turnout has been beyond my expectations. It's really gratifying. Not only in terms of the sheer number of people, but in terms of the diversity of the groups represented," Loewen said. "This is sending a very strong message that hate groups will not find fertile soil to plant seeds in the City of Winnipeg."
When asked why certain individuals chose to conceal their identity by wearing bandannas over their faces, Loewen highlighted the need for anti-fascist activists to protect themselves from far-right reprisals.
"There are only a few people who are masked. And behind those masks there's a nurse, a social worker, students, a high school teacher, educators. It's a very diverse group. But among anti-fascists it's usually only a small number who mask up and it's for security reasons. They're worried about monitoring and reprisals from the neo-Nazis."
While the crowd approached the legislative building music could be heard echoing out of speakers from the nearby Manyfest. As feet fell upon pavement someone banged on a drum and many protestors raised their arms toward the sky, their flags flickering in the afternoon wind.
The counter-protestors met up with hundreds gathered on the south side of the legislative building at 2 p.m. for the pro-diversity rally.
From the top step of the legislative building around 500 people could been seen gathered and a large banner reading "LOVE" was held up in the centre of the crowd.
As community leaders, local politicians and musicians prepared to address those in attendance, a loud cheer of: "In Winnipeg we unite against hate!" was shouted.
The speeches made by organizers touched on similar themes: the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va., and the necessity to organize against fascism.
Following a few speeches, a woman took the microphone and sang two Bob Marley songs to the crowd which swayed back and forth with the music under the hot summer sun.
At the event Omar Kinnarath, a local anti-fascist organizer, was asked what he felt today showed to far-right activists looking to organize in Winnipeg.
"I think the message sent today was that we do not tolerate hate in this city and will mobilize against it every single time," he said. "I hope people see what we do, which is stronger than meeting them face to face with masks. It's about the vibe, the energy, the turnout, the love."
He went on to say that he hopes events like today's anti-fascist march and pro-diversity rally will signal to far-right activists there is no point attempting to organize in Winnipeg.
"They can come here as tourists. They can come here to watch a hockey game or enjoy our city. But don't ever come here to have a hate rally. Because we'll be there everytime. We're very loving, we like to have fun, but as you heard in our chants earlier today: 'Peg city don't play.'"
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.
Updated on Saturday, September 9, 2017 at 1:59 PM CDT: adds photo