Above: VIU’s Nanaimo campus. Photo courtesy viu.ca.
By contributor Joshua Chumsa-Jones
VIU is known to be an accepting and welcoming campus for students of different faiths, cultures, identities, abilities, and sexual orientations. We have a Positive Space Alliance on campus as a safe space for LGBTQ+ students, as well as stairs painted the colours of the pride flag. VIU has many international students studying here from across the globe. There is The Gathering Place (Shq’apthut) on campus as a resource for Aboriginal students.
We like to think ourselves as living in a tolerant community, that racism, Islamophobia, white supremacy, and hate crimes take place elsewhere. We like to believe that we are not affected by the negative events and white populace movements arising in the United States.
By now, many of us should be aware of the political climate south of the border. It is now hard to make it a full day without hearing about Donald Trump. The antics of the new president are being discussed online, on TV, radio, and even among newspapers. Some say it shouldn’t affect us, but many of us have already become involved.
During the Women’s March on Washington, Nanaimo had its own sister march on January 21. Many gathered in the Diana Krall plaza and walked to the Maffeo Sutton park to show solidarity for the all the women who have, are, and will be victimized by president Trump. Local Trump supporters also showed up as an attempt to disrupt the event. One VIU student was not happy about the lack of action marchers took in removing them.
Many of the fervent supporters of the racist, misogynist, fear mongering, billionaire president are also members of an ultra-right winged—or alt-right—movement. Those who identify as being alt-right are white nationalists who believe in racial segregation and white supremacy, holding several other fascist beliefs. They despise feminists, the LGBTQ+ community, socialists, and anyone with progressive or left-winged views.
Richard Spencer, a leader in the alt-right movement, held a rally last November in Washington DC which can be viewed on YouTube. There, he gave a speech to an audience of young white men on how white people are the righteous inheritors of America. He ended his speech with “Hail, Trump! Hail, our people! Hail, victory!” while several audience members could be seen throwing what look like Nazi salutes.
Unfortunately, it seems as though this racist attitude is spilling over the border. Early this year, six people were killed in a shooting at a mosque in Quebec. In Calgary, white supremacists have been getting bolder, as organizations such as Blood and Honour have been marking the streets with their fascist imagery. In this province, flyers for the Klu Klux Klan appeared on the doorsteps of residents in Abbotsford, Chilliwack, and Mission last October.
On Vancouver Island, the street patrol gang called the Soldiers of Odin set up a chapter in Victoria and went on their first patrol last December. Their presence has been causing concern for some locals, since the original group in Finland is openly racist and has declared themselves to be anti-refugee and anti-immigration. According to an organizer from Anti Racist Action Victoria, three Soldiers of Odin officers live in Duncan.
There are even racists in Nanaimo. This month, on the same day that VIUSU hosted an event for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, six racist posters were found on campus. These posters were quickly taken down before anyone else could see them. Media reports and VIU’s staff refuse to show the posters to anyone or describe what they look like besides saying they contain “nazi imagery” and are “extremely disturbing and certainly racist”. The RCMP, who are now in possession of the posters, refuse to give any more details or let the public see them. They say that the Nanaimo Youth Section have started an investigation with the help of the General Investigation Unit, and that the BC Hate Crime Team has been notified.
There have been no official updates or leads yet as to where the posters came from or who hung them up. Constable Gary O’Brien, media relations officer of the Nanaimo RCMP, says that posters with the same kind of imagery have shown up on the lower mainland, but there have been no other instances of them appearing on the Island. He doubts that any incident like this will happen again in future, saying that “sometimes they’re one off” and that “VIU is a very inclusive campus”.
It would seem as though authorities are confident it won’t happen again, or perhaps there is an attempt to sweep the incident under the rug. It should be noted that there have been many instances of racism within the ranks of the RCMP. Commissioner Bob Paulson has even admitted it, saying “there are racists in my police force” at an Assembly of First Nations meeting in 2015. The RCMP have also been ineffective in solving the decades long crisis of Aboriginal women going missing and murdered.
The racist posters episode has certainly caused a bit of a stir among VIU students. Many were upset and disgusted, while others were also shocked and surprised that such a thing would happen here. One student claimed that they have not personally experienced much racism on campus before. This has certainly been a wake up call to the community as to the possible potential threat of organized white supremacists. “It inspires me to vocalize more about diversity,” Phoebe Patigdas, chairperson of VIUSU, told CTV news in an interview.
Hopefully, this incident will inspire many others in our community to be more vocal against hate. This is a time when people should be creating coalitions to actively challenge hate speech to ensure the safety of those who may be targeted. Well meaning people have already been organizing against the tide of right-wing nationalism in Canada. During the protests and counter protests concerning M-103 earlier this month, clashes between racists and anti-racist groups took place across the country concerning the anti-Islamophobia motion. In many cities, the counter protesters greatly outnumber those who showed up for the initial xenophobic protests, showing just how many people are willing to actively challenge hate and bigotry. Vancouver Island and even Nanaimo contains many socially conscious and politically active people, and if they are properly organized they can ensure that their communities are safe, welcoming, and diverse.