KJIPUKTUK (Halifax, Nova Scotia)
At approximately 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 22, 2019, crowds of people gathered at the Halifax Grand Parade to form a counter demonstration against the National Citizens Alliance (NCA) –an alt-right political party that was founded upon nationalist beliefs in 2014.
The NCA had originally booked the Grand Parade for a rally at 2 p.m., and party leader Stephen Garvey was scheduled to speak on the topic of “Canadians, Canada First” as part of a tour across Canada. The rally’s start time was changed to 12 p.m., however, when the party became aware of the brewing counter demonstration.
The organizers of the demonstration adapted to the time change. Halifax activists—armed with loud music and anti-racist, pro-migrant banners—were ready at 12 p.m. to protest ideas they claim are rooted in fascism. The Halifax Regional Police informed the organizers that officers were on standby, and at least ten police cars were spotted around the site for the duration of the event.
The protest was organized by the people behind Halifax Against Hate (HAH), a Facebook and Twitter presence that keeps track of "local hate groups" in Nova Scotia. Representatives from other activism groups, such as the global climate action movement Extinction Rebellion, were also in attendance. Some people brought pots and pans to bang together, while others brought musical instruments. One person even brought a tuba.
Gary Burrill, leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) in Nova Scotia, made an appearance shortly before 12:30 p.m. He admitted that his arrival was an accident, but he remained on site for the majority of the event. He was even sighted chanting "go away NCA" with the rest of the crowd.
NCA's Stephen Garvey finally approached the site shortly after Burrill’s arrival, yelling “racists, go home” through a megaphone. He was accompanied by two supporters. One supporter stayed with Garvey and the other moved to the opposite side of the Grand Parade.
The protesters immediately surrounded Garvey, singing chants that condemned the NCA as an alleged fascist, neo-nazi organization. While the crowd was loud and overbearing, no physical violence was made against Garvey. They followed him around Grand Parade, flashed their banners in his face, and loudly opposed his party’s policies. Extensive video footage captures Garvey's interactions with the protesters.
The Halifax Regional Police intervened once during the official demonstration, when a protester removed Garvey’s NCA hat and tossed it into the crowd. Two police officers immediately arrested the protester. A police statement later said the man was arrested for assault and "charged with Breach of Peace", but a press release from HAH says the man was released with no charges.
In Canadian law, a breach of peace is a form of disorderly conduct often cited by police officers in the arrests of protesters and public demonstrators. These arrests are considered deescalation measures, and are used—in theory—to restore order. According to a resource provided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, arrests for breaching the peace do not result in charges.
After failing to speak over the protesters, Garvey began live streaming the event on his cellphone. He and his supporter made an escape toward Argyle Street, but the protesters followed. Garvey led the crowd south down Argyle Street, moving downtown until he reached the cobblestone pedestrian zone on Granville Street. He looped around and headed back toward the Grand Parade. Once on Barrington Street, he approached a police officer for assistance.
“They’re allowed to protest,” said the officer. Garvey discussed more with the officer, but the rest was unintelligible amidst the noise of the crowd.
Garvey and his supporter escaped into a nearby vehicle. They drove around the Grand Parade to pick up the third NCA supporter on Argyle Street. After some discussion with the other police officers, the three men fled the scene.
The protesters regrouped at the Grand Parade, where speeches were given to wrap up the event. “These sort of victories only happen when people show up,” said one of the organizers. “We need to stop this thing before it gets big. Hitler started with thirty people. We cannot let them get big. We know what happens.”
At approximately 2:15 p.m., after the protesters had dispersed, the NCA made a second attempt to hold their rally. According to a statement by the Halifax Regional Police, a group of protesters—donning masks—approached the rally and intimidated the NCA. One protester ripped the NCA’s sign and attempted to steal it, and apparently other protesters assaulted the NCA supporters. No further details were given about the supposed assault on the NCA, and according to the police statement the NCA did not report any injuries.
However, the press release from HAH states the NCA were the first to become physically violent, when they surrounded and "dog-piled" a male protester. A female police officer confronted the conflict, and pepper sprayed the group on the ground. The protester fell victim to the pepper spray, and was shortly placed under arrest.
As of June 24, 2019, the HAH's press release was proven accurate in a 15-second video uploaded to their Twitter page. In the video, two men are locked in physical conflict as a white banner slowly drifts away from them. A man in a bright red shirt grabs onto them, and two more men—one in black and one in a blue and white jacket—join the struggle. A woman and a female police officer are seen sprinting toward the scene.
One man is thrown to the ground, and two men climb on top of him. The man in red and the man in the jacket hover above, watching the fight unfold. When the police officer approaches, she plants her feet and stretches her arm out toward the three men on the ground, presumably firing her pepper spray. This is the end of the video.
The men in the video are easily identified by referencing other videos and photos taken on the day of the event. All but two of the parties involved are supporters of the NCA: the man on the ground and the woman are protesters.
Video footage originally posted on the NCA’s Facebook page reinforces the identities of those involved, and provides more clarity on the situation.
In the video, the male protester is in handcuffs and the female police officer calls for backup. She releases her hold on him to grab the female protester. There are no other police officers in the shot. An NCA supporter makes multiple grabs for the handcuffed protester, but backs off after being yelled at by the officer. A different NCA supporter makes another grab for the handcuffed protester. The handcuffed protester vocalizes outrage, and moves back into the officer’s line of sight. The officer pulls both protesters away from the crowd of NCA supporters, and neither protester makes an attempt to physically resist her.
The footage pans to a third protester, who jeers at the cameraman before yelling at something off screen. The camera pans to what the protester is looking at, and captures the officer stepping between the handcuffed protester and two NCA supporters. The officer is off screen briefly as the camera focuses on the handcuffed protester, but she returns to escort both protesters across the Grand Parade. The handcuffed protester claims he was attacked, and the officer remarks that she saw him headbutt the NCA supporter. The female protester then firmly states she was being grabbed by the NCA supporter, and the handcuffed protester agrees and reasons that he was trying to protect her.
The police officer applies no additional force to the protesters. Later in the video it is revealed that she had pepper sprayed the implicated NCA supporter in the moment she was briefly off camera, in response to what was presumably the attack on the protesters. No other officers are seen throughout the duration of the video.
In the statement by the Halifax Regional Police, it is said that after the incident only the male protester was arrested. He was charged with unlawful assembly, property damage, and theft under $5000.
According to HAH, one NCA supporter was later detained and briefly placed in a police car, and another NCA supporter—suspected of being intoxicated—was arrested and removed from the scene. Any remaining protesters and NCA supporters then vacated the area without further interaction.
The Halifax Regional Police have not yet addressed the inconsistencies and lack of information in their statement.
In the aftermath of an event that was destined to be wrought with emotion, two protesters were arrested for actions taken against the NCA. A 38-year-old man was arrested for assault after removing the hat of the NCA party leader, Stephen Garvey, and was released without charges. A 28-year-old man was arrested for damaging the NCA's banner, despite the violence he incurred as a result.
Ultimately, the counter protest motivated approximately 150 people to publicly oppose the NCA’s presence in Halifax, thus preventing the party from campaigning within the city for the upcoming federal election. Another NCA rally is scheduled to be held in Truro on Thursday, June 27, and HAH is proposing a second counter protest to join Truro activists in their opposition against the NCA.
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