Plans to hold an anti-racism march in Innisfail were postponed after its organizer received a bigoted backlash.
But that hostility has only sparked further anti-racist protests headed to small Alberta towns.
Brittany Bovey, 23, said she was shocked by the social media hostility to her announcement of a Black Lives Matter-inspired event in her hometown of 8,000 people on June 13.
“I didn’t realize there’s a rather sizable pocket of people hostile to Black Lives Matter. I now realize Innisfail isn’t really ready for a march,” said Bovey, adding she also had concerns about social distancing.
When she posted an invitation for the march on an Innisfail community Facebook page, “That’s when the real sentiment came through — maybe I’d been in my own little bubble.”
Many of the comments aggressively denied the need for such an event in central Alberta, one man even blaming George Floyd for his death at the hands of Minneapolis police, the event that sparked the current protests around the world.
“I will not welcome this to our town, the entire thing insinuates we have some sort of racial problem which we do not,” wrote one man.
Stated another: “Media can’t paint any Africans in a bad light, I guess.”
“When is the white lives matter protest,” wrote one woman.
Some criticizing Bovey also insisted systemic racism doesn’t exist in Canada or the U.S.
“I hope no one shows (up) to your stupid rally,” wrote one man.
Bovey said observing racism targeting First Nations people while attending the University of Lethbridge convinced her to be an activist in Innisfail, 115 kilometres north of Calgary.
She’s approached town council seeking official sanction for an event, adding one of its members, Jean Barclay, has been supportive.
“I do know that officially town council is not on board yet,” said Bovey.
But the woman said she’s received support from sympathizers in Calgary, who plan to travel to Innisfail for a stationary, educational gathering on Saturday that would also target racism facing First Nations people and foreign workers.
The delay, she said, allows her more time to organize.
“The rally is postponed in part by the racist backlash, and also because the movement is expanding,” said Bovey.
“I’m a little bit worried (about holding an event), but it’s time racism should be addressed here.
“I will not be silent.”
One black woman who said she used to live in central Alberta where she encountered considerable racism, including being called the N-word, encouraged Bovey to stand her ground and castigated her attackers as bigoted and deeply in denial.
“Small town Alberta is 100 per cent part of the problem … this is not OK,” Taylor McNallie said on Facebook in response to Bovey’s detractors.
In an interview, McNallie said beginning next week, she and a group of activists will protest against racism in small centres across southern Alberta starting in one of her childhood towns, Cremona.
Bovey’s efforts and the resulting anger inspired her take her own action, she said.
“It’s really important to put a stop to this at least so our children and grandchildren can feel safe and wanted,” said McNallie.
But first, she said “we have crowds going up to Innisfail this weekend to support (Bovey). She’s not alone.”
Innisfail Mayor Jim Romane said he’s never heard of any complaints of racism in the town in the 22 years he’s been on council, but he acknowledged Bovey’s critics “came down on her pretty hard.”
“Black lives matter but in my mind all lives matter,” said Romane.
An anti-racist gathering in Innisfail would be fine as long as it doesn’t block traffic or pose a threat of spreading COVID-19, he said.
“We’re going to bring it up at our council meeting (Tuesday) night,” said Romane.
Several Black Lives Matter marches and gatherings in both Calgary and Edmonton have attracted thousands of people.
on Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn