The Yellow Vest movement hit Cranbrook on Saturday afternoon, as a group wearing high-visibility vests staged a protest outside Kootenay Columbia MP Wayne Stetski’s office.
The Yellow Vest group was protesting Canada signing onto a United Nations agreement laying out 23 objectives for safe, orderly and regular migration.
“We’re really big for making sure that borders are enforced, but more than anything, we’re here to stand up for Canadians,” said Ebon Smylie, who organized the protest.
The Yellow Vest movement is I Cranbrook as a protest is underway outside MP Wayne Stetski’s constituency office. Counter protesters also here on the other side. pic.twitter.com/g8j6y8zz8S
— Cranbrook Townsman (@CranTownsman) January 5, 2019
Smylie pushed back against against accusations of racism in the broader Canadian Yellow Vest movement.
“We are not against immigration; we are against illegal migration of people coming in here who don’t have any security checks and we don’t know who they are,” Smylie said. “This is not a movement about racism. We are here to say we have no problem with people coming into our country as long as they are going to be a part of our country and make Canada the safe place we all grew up in.”
The group was also protesting the lack of progress on the Trans Mountain pipeline and the treatment of Canadian veterans, as Smylie slammed proposed changes to a federal government plan that would cut $1.8 billion in funding for veteran programs.
A separate group was also present as a counter-protest who were concerned about underlying tones of racism and LGBTQ discrimination in the broader Yellow Vest movement as well as environmental consequences to pipeline expansion.
The counter-protesters drew comparisons between the Canadian Yellow Vest movement to the rise of the ‘alt-right’ in the United States, with highly visible white supremacy demonstrations such as the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last year.
That rally, which began with a procession of people carrying lit tiki-torches chanting white supremacist slogans through a university campus, violently culminated the next day with the horrific death of Heather Heyer, who died after a man drove a car into a crowd of counter protesters.
Amanda, one of counter-protesters at Saturday’s Yellow Vest demonstration, was uncomfortable about connections between the Yellow Vest movement and anti-immigration groups such as the Sons of Odin and the Northern Guard.
“This protest is basically in favour of anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, anti-brown people, said Amanda, a counter protester referencing the yellow vest movement. “Canada has a long history of problems with racism and xenophobia; that xenophobia led to residential schools and the destruction of the entire Native culture.”
The counter-protesters also called for a halt on the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline and the practice of fracking.
“Without the environment, we have nothing,” said Beth. “We cannot build any more pipelines. We cannot do any more fracking. We need to save the water, the air and the environment that we have right now.”