CANADA

The riots that needed a program

MALCOLM GRAY November 16 1981
CANADA

The riots that needed a program

MALCOLM GRAY November 16 1981

The riots that needed a program

BRITISH COLUMBIA

To the people watching, the antiracist rally in Vancouver’s South Memorial Park was a blackly humorous farce. Two groups, both calling for the banning of the Ku Klux Klan— some of whom were among the spectators—were bashing each other with wooden stakes torn from their placards. It was the second such battle in two weeks, and several people were injured. One man required surgery for a head wound after the brawl. Since the October riots, police have laid 10 dangerous weapons charges (the wooden stakes), some of them against members of the People’s Front Against Racist and Fascist Violence. The Front is a far-left organization associated with the Communist party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) and the East Indian Defence Committee.

The Front’s opponent, the British Columbia Organization (BCO) to Fight Racism, was founded a year ago with the support of labor organizations, church groups and the NDP. It had called for peaceful rallies in the Vancouver park

where an East Indian man was beaten to death in a robbery last summer. The People’s Front was not asked to attend—in fact, it was specifically asked not to attend the second rally. But 50 of its supporters showed up both times and, shouting “Death to opportunism” and “Self-defence is the only way,” appeared to provoke the confrontation with the BCO, which had 450 supporters on hand. Since then the BCO has had trouble finding a place to hold its first convention. The City of New Westminster, near Vancouver, refused to allow the demonstrations to take place in a local community centre because officials were worried about more violence breaking out.

The superficially puzzling conflict between two anti-racist groups takes place against the backdrop of attacks on East Indians and increased efforts by the Klan to recruit members through shrewdly publicized cross-burnings. On Oct. 17, Klan members burned a cross in south Vancouver to celebrate the death of Anwar Sadat as well as to toast the riot between the People’s Front and the BCO earlier that day. And, although the Klan has denied involvement in a series of fire-bombings, shotgun blasts and

rocks directed at East Indians’ houses and businesses this year, the 40,000 East Indians living in the Lower Mainland are worried. There has been talk of self-protection groups being formed, an approach first advocated by the People’s Front within the East Indian community as the best means of fighting racism. But Charan Gill, a social worker and president of the BCO, says: “The People’s Front is losing its position in the [East Indian] community. They succeeded in causing confusion and scaring people, but the rallies exposed the Front’s violence and childish behavior.”

The riots and the Klan’s growing visibility are pushing B.C.’s politicians into a rare show of solidarity. Two Socred cabinet ministers, two Conservatives and one NDP member of Parliament met with Vancouver Mayor Mike Harcourt three weeks ago and pledged to work against racism. That public relations gesture is meant to reassure minority groups and there will be another meeting in January to see how much progress has been made. For its part, the BCO got some good news recently: it has found a private hall for its convention next month at the MacPherson Convention Centre in Burnaby. Attendance is by invitation or membership only. Security is expected to be tight.

-MALCOLM GRAY