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Anti-racism rally host urges people to desert comfort zones

Edward Liu plays down Soldiers of Odin appearance and challenges people of all ethnicities in Richmond to make more effort to know their neighbours
More than 200 people came out for an anti-racism rally at Bridgeport Station Sunday. The event followed the distribution of two racist flyers. Three men sporting jackets from the Soldiers of Odin — an anti-immigration group accused of promoting white supremacy — also turned up before being asked to leave.

The organizer of an anti-racism rally in Richmond has challenged people of all ethnicities to “get out of their comfort zones.”

Edward Liu was speaking in the wake of Sunday’s protest at the Brighouse Canada Line station, which drew an estimated 250 people from various ethnic backgrounds.

The event — the third of its kind in as many weeks in Richmond after anti-immigration flyers targeting the Chinese community were distributed in the Steveston area — was positive.

However, it was marred slightly by the appearance of a small group from the Soldiers of Odin, a citizen-based “street patrol” organization, closely connected to anti-immigration movements in Finland.

“I’m asking people –—no matter their ethnicity — to step out of their comfort zone and make an effort to get to know the people in their communities,” Liu told the News.

“I’m asking people to reach out to their neighbours; talk to them, make them some cookies or just say hello when you bump into them; don’t just look the other way.”

Liu, a long-time Richmond resident and immigrant from Hong Kong, said he was pleasantly surprised to see so many people turn out on Sunday in solidarity.

“It was mostly residents, but it included teachers and community leaders from different ethnicities,” he said.

“After the last (anti-racism rally), some people called me and emailed me to say they were not Chinese, but wanted to show their support; they urged me to organize another event, to give them an opportunity to speak out and show that Richmond was not a racist place.”

Liu said he and his fellow organizers are now talking about hosting some workshops and activities on a smaller scale, which will “help us learn more about each other.”

Organizers of Sunday’s rally were also gathering signatures for a petition, which Liu said he will hand over to Richmond’s mayor, three MLAs and the RCMP, urging them to do more to foster racial harmony in the city.

Earlier, on Friday, another rally was held, in concert, at the Richmond Cultural Centre by 17 church groups from within the city.

The flyers that fueled recent events largely targeted Chinese immigrants, accusing them of many ills in the community, not least driving up house prices.

One even cited an “alt-right” website, linked to the white nationalist movement in the U.S.

On Sunday, although claiming not to be racist, pledging support for everyone, irrespective of race and carrying signs stating “Stand And Fight Against Hate,” — the three men representing the Soldiers of Odin were told their presence wasn’t welcome and, after a few words were exchanged, moved further down No. 3 Road.

Despite repeated attempts to contact the Soldiers of Odin’s B.C. chapter through its Facebook page, the News was not able to reach the group or its local leaders for comment.

At the event, Soldiers of Odin representative Kris Erickson told the News’ photographer that everyone had got their message wrong and claimed that they were there to express solidarity with the protestors.

However, Liu said that, after one of the organizers spotted the men in their “Soldiers of Odin” (SOO) jackets, the three men were asked to leave the vicinity, despite it being a public place.

“If they were really there to promote racial harmony, they would be welcome to stay and take part. But we don’t believe, knowing about their ties to anti-immigration, that they were there to support anti-racism,” Liu said.

“So, for the purposes of safety, they were asked to leave. Their jackets were intimidating because of their connections. Despite their signs, we were not convinced they were there for anything good.”

SOO, which has chapters across Canada, denies, on its public Facebook page, any accusations of being racist or anti-immigrant and claims to exist to primarily protect women and children by keeping the streets safe.

However, it’s been alleged the group’s private Facebook page is filled with racist and xenophobic comments, mainly directed towards Muslims.