I was born and raised in Brandon, but for most of the past twenty years I have lived away from the city. When my family and I returned to Brandon two years ago, I was amazed at how the city had grown and changed. I know that Brandon has always been a diverse community, but immigration over the last twenty years has absolutely remade the city into a genuine multicultural mosaic.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that Brandon has its problems, and that among the most pressing of these problems is a nagging skein of bigotry that just won’t go away. However, in recent years, our community has been immeasurably enriched by a diversity of newcomers from countries around the world.
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A local group is planning a so-called “yellow vest” protest for Saturday, January 5 that will apparently involve a truck convoy running from Virden to Brandon, followed by a demonstration to be held at the final destination. The yellow vest protest has become a symbol of an emerging populist resentment that is roiling a number of western countries. In this specific case, the demonstration organizer explains in a Brandon Sun interview (paywall) that his event is all about protesting a perceived lack of governmental support for western Canada’s oil industry.
What the organizer fails to mention in his interview is that this protest also threatens to both draw upon and spread anti-immigrant fear and resentment.
How is it that can I make this claim?
In the top left corner of the group’s poster is an image of the UN logo circled and crossed out by a thick red line. This image alludes to the group’s rejection of the UN Global Compact for Migration. A leaflet that accompanies the poster (entitled “What is Canada’s Yellow Vest Protest About?”) makes this link clear:
We advocate for maintaining the people of Canada’s complete sovereignty over Canada’s borders and lands within, and call for the immediate withdrawal from the UN Global Compact for Migration.
To be clear, nothing in the UN Compact compromises Canadian sovereignty in any way. Indeed, to oppose this entirely harmless international compact is to effectively reject 70 years of successful Canadian foreign policy and diplomacy. More importantly, however, opposition to the UN Compact has been increasingly structured by incendiary and conspiratorial fears of so-called “globalist” forces that are apparently bent on undercutting Canadian sovereignty and opening the door to unfettered immigration. A taste of this overheated rhetoric is found on the Facebook page of “Yellow Vests Canada,” a group that boasts over 97,000 members:
This group is to protest the CARBON TAX and the Treason of our country’s politicians who have the audacity to sell out OUR country’s sovereignty over to the Globalist UN and their Tyrannical policies.
Even more alarming, yellow vest protests across the country have been attracting virulently racist groups to their events. For example, members of the Soldiers of Odin were present at protests in Calgary and Edmonton earlier this month, and La Meute turned up at a protest in Ottawa three weeks ago. On multiple occasions, violence has broken out at these protests (in Edmonton and Ottawa). In short, as this report by Kevin Metcalf makes clear, Canada’s version of the yellow vest movement has been appropriated by far right anti-immigrant groups.
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I don’t deny anyone the right to protest government policy; indeed, the right of protest lies at the very heart of a democratic system. Nor am I claiming that the organizers of the Brandon protest are necessarily racist or anti-immigrant. However, the fraught nature of our current political climate demands that responsible people will temper their rhetoric and deny racists even the smallest of platforms or footholds.
The last twenty years have transformed Brandon into a truly multicultural city, and I benefit from this transformation every day, whether I’m shopping at local businesses, visiting my son’s school, attending community events, working at my job, or dining at local restaurants.
There is no doubt that newcomers have made Brandon a more prosperous, vibrant and welcoming place, and it is imperative that all of us do what we can to protect and nurture this development.