Event tackles rise of white supremacist groups in Lower Mainland

Note: This event has been postponed. A new time will be announced at a later date.

Death and hatred have been recurring themes in Imtiaz Popat’s life for the better part of two decades. His brush with both came to a head in 1998, when Nirmal Singh Gill was murdered outside of a Sikh temple in Surrey. Five skinheads linked to hate groups were convicted in the incident.

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Popat created a short documentary about the murder and rallied community support through his background in advocacy and community TV.

“This is not a benign thing,” Popat said. “These white supremacists are capable of murder and there’s a history that we’ve seen happen globally.”

Popat said that wave is beginning to crest again and is the result of a confluence of factors: Donald Trump’s standing as the leader of the free world, nationalist groups gaining traction in pockets of Europe and the presence of far-right movements across Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.  

The newest iteration of Popat’s fight back came to be in December of last year, when the Coalition Against Bigotry — Pacific was established. The group will hold a roundtable discussion called “White Supremacists in our Community” at the Carnegie Community Centre on July 5.

The group’s modus operandi includes monitoring bigotry in its myriad of forms. Coalition members collect information and keep tabs on groups suspected of targeting minorities, homeless populations and others who are persecuted based on their race, religion or sexuality. Its membership is aligned with other left-leaning activist groups such as Black Lives Matter and the Carnegie Community Action Project.

The group has helped organize, and participated in, several protests — or actions, as he calls them — across the region: outside the Trump Tower in downtown Vancouver, at Surrey City Hall and in the Fraser Valley. Those protests were in response to racist leaflets being distributed and the mass shooting at a Quebec mosque earlier this year.

A former COPE-affiliated park board candidate, Popat offers only select details about the group’s makeup or where he resides. He declined being photographed, and provided handout photos to the Courier instead. Popat suggests he and other coalition members are actively being targeted by white supremacy groups.

“It’s not easy,” said Popat, 54. “Someone has to do something and stand up to them. And we are.”

His group was publicly targeted as recently as late March, when Popat said members of the far-right movement known as the Soldiers of Odin attacked his coalition at an International Day Against Racism gathering at Victory Square.

Video from the event shows about 10 men all dressed in black confronting protesters before police intervene. Three men who identified as members of Soldiers of Odin were arrested and released without criminal charges.

That charges weren’t laid is criminal in and of itself, Popat says.

“We want to put out a challenge to the mayor, city council and the police that they’re not protecting us — nor is any form of government,” Popat said.

Popat says he doesn’t condone violence among coalition members, though some go that route anyway.  

“We have different people who have different views of doing things,” Popat said. “As a coalition we can’t dictate to tour members and supporters. Some people may take more radical approaches than others.”

The July 5 roundtable runs from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Carnegie Community Centre. Details at facebook.com/events/399827860417420.

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