True solidarity was shown away from the keyboards and in the gathering at City Hall tonight for the Barrie Anti-White Supremacy Vigil.
About 100 people showed up looking for comfort and a friendly smile after the tragedy in Charlottesville Virginia last week that took the life of 32-year-old activist Heather Heyer when a white nationalist drove his car into a crowd of people protesting racism.
The Barrie event was put together two days ago by organizers in attempt to stand up and let racism and white supremacists know that people will not be quiet and let it happen. Keenan Aylwin was one of those organizers and believes that it’s definitely time people stood up regardless of what city racist atrocities happen in.
“This may have happened in Virginia but we’re all human and we’re all in this together and need to stand together,” said Aylwin. “There needs to be some uncomfortable discussion before true healing can happen and this vigil will have that; it will also hopefully have understanding and conversation. Education is the only way to end racism.”
Much of the uncomfortable discussion took place where it usually does, on social media and behind the computer screens.
The heated debates started early when there was a request by the organizers that echoed a similar event in Kingston Saturday that “Colonial flags and symbols (Canadian and provincial flags, union jacks, other colonial and or white state flags, Canada 150) are not appropriate (and not welcomed) for this event.” Aylwin explained why the request was made and reiterated that uncomfortable discussion would take place.
“White supremacy doesn’t just mean Nazis and skinheads,” said Aylwin. “For some such as Canada’s Indigenous people it means the crimes that have been perpetrated against them. The Canadian flag means many things to many people, to some of our First Nations it is symbol of oppression. All that’s being asked here is that anything that could offend people who have historically been oppressed; we respectively leave at home.”
Someone did bring a Canadian flag and there was no opposition to it from anyone.
The first speaker was Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman who assured everyone that the city of Barrie was standing together as they always do in support of fighting evil wherever it is though he was saddened that in 2017 there needed to be a vigil against racism.
“I’m shocked at the rise of hate,” said Lehman. “We’ve seen a lot more of it all over the world and we are not immune to it here in Canada, we’re kidding ourselves if we think that we are. That being said, the values that make Canada what it is, openness, tolerance, the Charter of Rights regardless of race, sexual orientation and religion; that’s what I think everyone is here to stand in solidarity for.”
Saturday Aug. 19 will mark the 75 anniversary of the Dieppe Raid, a key battle of World War 2; that fact was not lost on the mayor.
"I had two grandfathers who fought fascism,” said Lehman. “The fact is that today we need to defend those values, perhaps through our speech, our voices whether its online or otherwise. It shouldn’t be the case but it is and the old expression is never more relevant than now in that the only thing that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing; today we at least do something and say no to racism.”
Another speaker was Pride organizer Shelly Skinner, who emotionally told her story of being a pansexual, black, single mother and moving to Barrie from Toronto for a better life.
“I remember my mother pulling me out of my school because of racist bullying,” said Skinner. “Its now 2017 and I have been since troubled with the same treatment for my daughter. We need to find a way to stop this and come together to do it.”
Representing the Indigenous community was Wayne Monague, the BNFC Health Outreach Worker from the Barrie Native Friendship Centre. Monague says it was important for First Nations people to be out at the event to speak openly about the many issues involving them.
“We’ve had this battle as a people for quite some time, from since what we consider the beginning of time,” said Monague. “What we always try to do is overpower that with what our way of life is and that is to show love and respect to all others. The way we feel we best fight against negativity is to fight with positivity. We literally have traditional teachings that can help show the way in this and as much as people talk about the peace movement of the sixties, we’ve had that since the start of who we are and love itself overpowers all that negativity.”
The vigil lasted an hour and half with two moments of silence; one for the tragedy in Barcelona and one later for Heyer.
Police presence was on-hand but barely visible and not needed with only one person against the vigil who kept himself at a far distance. A banner was being signed in support of standing against racism and will eventually be sent to Charlottesville Virginia.