Members of a group called Halifax Against Hate are taking aim at the city’s police force after a political demonstration went south earlier this year, resulting in two arrests and the use of pepper spray.
The organization, which monitors the “far-right/fascist movement” in Halifax, according to its Twitter account, has accused the Halifax Regional Police of “defend(ing) fascists” at a June 22 rally at the Grand Parade.
That rally began as a public speaking event for a far-right political party called the National Citizens Alliance (NCA), but it was met with more than 150 counter-protesters from Halifax Against Hate, two of whom were arrested by the HRP.
“What I’d like to see coming out of this is communities working to address underlying causes,” demonstrator Sylvain MacNeil told Global News, at a second rally held outside Halifax Provincial Court on Tuesday.
“I think rather than turning to an institution that has consistently failed us, we need to build strength in communities to prevent the growth of white nationalism and to address the underlying poverty, racism and issues that drive the issues police are ostensibly there to address.”
In an interview, HRP spokesperson Cst. John MacLeod said the force applies the law equally to everyone and has a non-partisan public safety mandate.
WATCH: Two arrested after confrontation between far-right group and Halifax Against Hate (June 22)
The Tuesday demonstration was organized to support a Halifax Against Hate protester, who was arrested for his role in the June 22 rally, and charged with unlawful assembly, theft under $5,000 and property damage.
A police media release issued that day said the protester, “wearing a mask, ripped a sign and took it with him, while other unknown persons assaulted the National Citizens Alliance.”
Halifax Against Hate says that while two of their own were arrested that day, none of the NCA members were arrested, despite video footage that appears to show some NCA members making physical contact with a counter-protester. In the end, police pepper-sprayed the crowd.
“We did follow the evidence and investigate that fully and we laid the appropriate charges, and that case is now before the courts,” said MacLeod of the HRP, addressing the video and the charges against the counter-protester.
MacLeod explained that the video itself was shot from far away, and that charges were laid based, in part, on information from officers who were on scene at the time.
As for allegations that police acted in defense of “fascists” for their role in containing the NCA rally and counter-protest, MacLeod emphasized that the force is apolitical.
“When information is brought before us of a criminal offence, then we will investigate that fully no matter who it comes from,” he explained.
“Our mandate is public safety and to enforce the laws that are put in place, and that’s what we try to do.”
The NCA is a registered federal party whose website espouses advocates for a ban on what it calls “political Islam,” and its platform policies include denying immigrants and refugees who pose a so-called “culture threat” entry to Canada.
The party did not immediately respond to requests for an interview for this story.
Provincial NDP leader Gary Burrill appeared briefly near the end of Tuesday’s rally outside the courthouse.
He offered no comment on Halifax Against Hate’s allegations against the HRP, but said he supported their efforts to ‘de-platform’ the NCA in June.
“My own position is, simply, that here in Halifax, we know that around the world there are many white nationalist voices being raised,” he explained. “And I think it’s important for citizens in Halifax to say, ‘We will not countenance these voices being raised here amongst us.’
“That’s what that demonstration was about, charges arose from it and I am in support of those who organized that demonstration.”
The counter-protester from Halifax Against Hate will appear in court next on Aug. 27, while the NCA has stated that it will host another public speaking event in Halifax on Sept. 12.
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