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COAST SALISH TERRITORIES—About 50 people of colour and their allies rallied outside Vancouver Provincial Court Monday to protest racialized violence and its institutionalized roots. On trial are Robertson de Chazel and Alistair Miller, self-professed members of the international neo-Nazi group Blood and Honour. They are accused of aggravated assault for lighting a Filipino man on fire on Commercial Drive in October 2009. Lawyer Doug Christie, who has a long history of representing racists and anti-semites, is their counsel.
Monday's rally was organized by a coalition of the Filipino Canadian Youth Alliance, the Philippine Women Centre of BC and SIKLAB for Migrant Workers. They condemned the racist acts of the accused and the police and courts that perpetuate such violence. The organizers said “We hold Canada's legal and policing system accountable for not acting fast enough to penalize and dissolve the white supremacist group” and that “blatant acts of racism committed by Blood and Honour show how systemic racism trickles down to an individual level and pervades everyday life. That the Crown charged Alistair Miller and Robert de Chazal two long years after brutalizing the young Filipino man on Commercial Drive is an act of racism and discrimination in itself.”
Speakers at the rally included Ana Linares of the Raíces Latin American Cultural Society who called it “really appalling the amount of resources, time and manpower that have gone into finding the people who were involved in the Stanley Cup riot last summer, compared to the amount of resources and manpower put into finding people responsible for hate-based crimes. I find it appalling that we live in a society that values private property more than it does human dignity.”
The Vancouver Police Department originally stated that there was no evidence that this was a racially motivated attack, despite the fact that a black man who intervened was beaten, and several witnesses identified the attackers. Many in the neighbourhood thought that white supremacists were living in an apartment at Commercial and East Fifth, the corner of the attempted murder. At the time of the attack, police closed the file and laid no charges. Then, last February, BC's hate crimes unit began reviewing unsolved assaults against visible minorities. Charges were finally laid against the accused in December 2011.
The coalition's pamphlet put the attack in perspective, saying: “Canada's history is muddled with racist policies such as the colonization and genocide of First Nations people, the Chinese Head tax, the Japanese internment during WWII, the refusal of entry to Indian refugees on the Komagatu Maru ship in 1914 and the recent Sri Lankan refugees on the MV Sun Ship in the summer of 2010. Through these race-based policies, the state has effectively sowed an anti-immigrant sense into Canadians.
Filipino communities have also faced a history of racism and violence in Canada, with the banning of Filipino youth at the Scarborough Town Center in 1993, the hate graffiti and physical violence against Filipino youth at the Vancouver Technical School in 1999, and the deaths of two young Filipino men, both sons of nannies who entered Canada under the Live-in Caregiver Program. Mao Jomar Lanot was a victim of school bullies at Vancouver's Sir Charles Tupper Elementary in 2003 and Jeffrey Reodica was shot to death in the back by two plain-clothed Toronto police officers in 2004. Filipino youth have been targets of police brutality and racial profiling, as they are immediately labelled as gang members.”
Christina Panis, of the Philippine Women's Centre and the Kalayaan Centre, made the connection between Canada’s racist and colonialist policies and histories. “We are currently in ground zero, in the Downtown Eastside. This is the spot where many women have gone missing or were murdered because of the neglect of Vancouver, British Columbia and Canada. It's a neglect of our public safety.” This rally coincided with one of the weekly gatherings outside the Missing Women’s Inquiry to denounce it as a sham, and took place one day before the annual Women’s Memorial March.
A masked group brought a banner, which read “Nazi Scum Fuck Off” and distributed pamphlets which provided pictures and information about the accused, their lawyer, and less-recognized Nazi symbols. According to the group's pamphlet, the two accused and a third member of Blood and Honour, Shawn MacDonald, are charged in relation to six violent assaults on visible minorities dating back over three years. Three of those incidents occurred at the corner of Commercial and East Fifth. The assaults include the violent beating of a black man, a Hispanic man, an Indigenous woman, and another beating of a black man. Shawn MacDonald was confronted at his January 27 court appearance by a protest organized by No One is Illegal.
“For people of colour, for us to stand up and speak out about these kinds of things is so hard—so many people automatically accuse us of playing the 'race card',” said Linares. “I've noticed recently there's been this movement about people [saying] we're all humans, and race doesn't matter, colour doesn't matter, and in an ideal world that would be awesome. But reality is the entrenched systemic categorization of people.”
“Racism is a tool that's used to divide and conquer people,” said Panis. “It's a distraction from what is really happening right now, with austerity measures, economic downturn, the economic crisis [...] and instead of dealing with that, unfortunately people are taking out their anger on people that they see as a threat to their livelihood [...] People see us, who are doing the underclass work, the marginalized work, invisible work, as a threat.”
Asked about the role for white allies in the struggle against race-based violence, Linares said, “I think it's having dialogue from a really humble place of love, not being afraid to confront the potential controversy that can come out of having these kinds of discussions. They're painful discussions to have.” Panis added: “Just listen and stand with us. Get to know our stories.”
Court was adjourned without the accused showing their faces. Protestors vowed to confront them at their next court date, on March 12 at 1:30pm and come together again on March 18 for the Community March Against Racism being organized by No One is Illegal.