Waterloo Regional Police Services (WRPS) have been in the process of laying charges against individuals who attended the Baden anti-racism rally in Wilmot Township. Their power to lay such charges fall under the Reopening Ontario Act and the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. As of writing, insideWaterloo is aware of charges being levied at two prominent Indigenous activists, three community organizers, and one Waterloo/Wilmot resident. Today, two organizers have received court summons. Under the Reopening Ontario Act, they could be facing minimum charges of $10,000.

The rally, held on May 8th, was in response to White Lives Matter posters seen around Wilmot. The posters linked to a public Telegram group with hundreds of white supremacists around the globe who planned to rally that same day. The group also linked to regional White Lives Matter groups for Canada and Toronto. New posters found last week advertised a White Lives Matter rally on June 5th.

Wilmot residents and community leaders, with help from GroundUpWR, mobilized quickly and planned a physically distanced and masked rally. Organizers took care to ensure attendees masked up and followed Public Health guidelines. Additional PPE were provided as well.

Police and bylaw officers were in attendance, keeping to the edges of the event. Officers were seen surveilling attendees and gathering evidence for later charges. The rally wrapped up at noon, which is when officers started to move in closer. Organizers and attendees viewed their presence as excessive considering the rally was already over then.

In a statement to insideWaterloo, the WRPS says its COVID Integrated Response Team (CIRT) is “continuing to follow up with individuals who can be identified and issuing the appropriate charges.” Regional police did not comment on how many tickets have been or will be issued in connection to the anti-racism rally.

“To date, there have been in excess of 75 charges laid by the Waterloo Regional Police Service’s CIRT for those who have violated the Reopening Ontario Act and the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act,” the WRPS statement read.

GroundUpWR member Will Turman compared this targeted policing to how WRPS have conducted themselves at anti-mask rallies. Hundreds of attendees at these rallies actively defy public health guidelines and the provincial lockdown, yet only 27 charges have been laid so far. Similarly, the group KW Palestine cancelled their in-person rally and opted to organize only a car rally out of concern, among others, of being intimidated by the police.

“The [anti-racist] event was really to show solidarity with Black, Indigenous and racialized communities in Wilmot, and to share the labour of anti-racist work” Turman said.

Turman said that GroundUpWR and community members in Wilmot tried to be transparent with elected officials from the outset, as well as with by-law, public health, and Regional Police. The group is in conversation with lawyers and has asked that any other attendees who have received tickets contact them.

“For [WRPS] to focus on hyper visible Indigenous people two weeks after the event … It doesn’t feel like the tickets were meant to keep us safe,” Turman said.

Indigenous activists targeted

As Amy Smoke pulled into their apartment building’s parking lot, they were concerned to see police officers waiting. Smoke’s first thought turned to their child, and what they might witness.

Smoke stepped out of the car, fumbling with their phone to record the encounter. One officer approached with a fine in hand, explaining it was being issued because Smoke was identified at an anti-racism rally in Wilmot earlier last month.

“They read it all out to me. I was just getting more and more riled up as they were speaking to me,” Smoke said.

Smoke said they questioned what the officer meant by their being ‘identified.’ Why them, and why now? Smoke said they already knew the answer.

“Because of my race; because I’m visibly Indigenous.”

Smoke said it didn’t make much sense for them to be charged in the first place. Under the Stay at Home Order of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, Line 18 states that Indigenous people were exempt if they are “Exercising an Aboriginal or treaty right as recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.” In Smoke’s mind, the fight against racism fell under Indigenous rights.

Cheyanne Thorpe was another Indigenous activist at the rally, was also being charged. It was just a regular day for Thorpe and her family when they noticed the police cruiser out front her home.

“It was actually incredibly alarming. I was caught completely off guard,” Thorpe said. “Which I think it’s a main regard for the tactic that they’re attempting to use in issuing these tickets.”

She was in a state of dissociation that she attributed to childhood trauma relating to harm and abuse by police officers. Not helped by the fact that Thorpe’s activism had increased her interactions with police tenfold, since she began organizing around the issue of the Prime Minister’s Path. When she came to, she accepted the ticket rather than try to argue with the officer. Both Smoke and Thorpe are facing charges of $880 each for attending the rally.

However, Smoke has already said that they wouldn’t be fighting the ticket despite the encouragement of others. People didn’t seem to understand just how time-consuming and stressful the process would be. Smoke was already busy running Land Back Camp this summer, and recently had to deal with the loss of their canvas banner that was featured at the camp last year. They said it was found cut to pieces and shoved into barbecue pits in the area.

“I totally get that, but I’m also very tired. I don’t have the emotional energy and funds to continue this fight. ‘Do I want to go to court? Do I want to do all of these things?’ And some of these comments are from white folks who would never be in this situation,” Smoke said.

A Gofundme page was created to support Smoke and Thorpe in paying off the tickets and for the psychological burden caused by the police. At the time of writing, the fundraiser has raised over $7,400.

“I’m just not comfortable with the tickets being issued. I think they should be rescinded.”

Wilmot Councillor Cheryl Gordjik

Smoke wasn’t directly involved with the organization of the anti-racism rally, but Thorpe was. She and the GroundUpWR team had been reaching out to elected officials. MPP Laura Mae Lindo did speak virtually at the rally, and Waterloo Councillor Jen Vasic pointed out the lack of guidance for running these protests, but aside from them, only a handful expressed support for the anti-racism rally.

“There was a pattern of people saying they were eager to participate,” Will Turman said. “For our elected officials to do this, it really broke the trust.”

Wilmot Councillor Cheryl Gordjik participated in the car rally that was part of the anti-racism rally. She expressed discomfort about WRPS charging two Indigenous activists, especially in regards to how police ‘identified’ them out of the crowd. She noted that because these charges are under provincial jurisdiction, council just doesn’t get much say on whether or not charges are laid.

“I’m just not comfortable with the tickets being issued. I think they should be rescinded,” she said. Gordjik noted that the scene wasn’t much different than the people having picnics in parks.

Thorpe is also on the region’s Anti-Racism Working Group and had met with the Regional Chair Karen Redman and CAO Bruce Lackner. She asked them about accountability when it came to addressing racism in the community.

“You gave such indirect action you actually called for action against us, so this is something that has been discussed,” she said.

Aashay Dalvi, one of the other organizers of the rally, provided this statement to insideWaterloo.

“Wilmot township continues to be a discriminatory and scary and unsafe space for newcomers, especially racialized newcomers and immigrants. There is no anti-racism strategy in place to protect members of the IBPoC community members. There is no space in Wilmot township’s management or administration for IBPoC representation. There is no space for immigrants of colour in Wilmot to report their grievances. Lives of newcomers and immigrants of colour continue to be controlled by the oppressive governing body. Discrimination based on race continues to thrive in Wilmot. There needs to be an anti-racism strategy for the racialized townsfolk that protects them from harm.”