by Susan Thompson

Peace River RCMP say they have identified a man spotted wearing what appeared to be a KKK-style hood in Grimshaw.

“Our investigators have been working on this throughout the weekend and we believe that we’ve identified the individual involved,” says Sgt. Dave Browne, Operations NCO at the Peace Regional RCMP Detachment..

“Investigation is continuing at this time to determine whether the incident meets the threshold for criminal charges.”

A photo snapped of the man at the local post office and posted to the Grimshaw General Forum on Jan. 8 quickly went viral on Facebook and Twitter and has since been covered by multiple national media outlets.

Comments on the photo range from those defending the hood as an anti-mask protest or a joke to others who say it is a hate crime. A group admin has since shut down commenting on the post.

In a Twitter post Jan. 9 where she shared the link to the first Smoky River Express article on the incident, provincial opposition leader Rachel Notley says of the photo, “This is vile and disgusting.”

“Hate has no place in our province. We must do everything we can to root out and call out racism in order to combat it in every one of its forms.”

Mayor Bob Regal says the Town does not condone the man’s actions and that they are not “appropriate or acceptable,” but he also thinks people are jumping to conclusions by assuming Grimshaw is a racist community.

Regal told CTV Edmonton, “I don’t believe honestly that a case of someone putting a pillowcase over their head is necessarily racism. Nobody knows. Nobody has gone up and talked to the gentleman.”

Regal says he does not know the man’s identity.

“Alberta has a long history of KKK activity,” says Taylor McNallie, co-founder of Inclusive Canada and member of Defund2Fund.

“There are active members in the province, who come from generations of Klansmen. To think these beliefs are gone would be extremely ignorant,” McNallie says.

The Ku Klux Klan had 50 chapters in Alberta with 7,000 to 8,000 members in 1930 according to a recent study called “Extremism and Hate Motivated Violence in Alberta.” While it has been greatly reduced since then, in 1988, two young KKK members were convicted of a plot to blow up a Jewish community centre in Calgary, and the Klan was still registered as a society in the province until 2003. Other white supremacist groups such as Blood and Honour continue to be active in the province according the the study.

McNallie says her organization is ready to support anyone who feels threatened.

“We would like to connect with any racialized or marginalized community members in the area. If you are feeling unsafe, please reach out to us! You are not alone. There is support here,” she says.

Responding to the comments made by Mayor Bob Regal, McNallie says, “There definitely needs to be action taken by the town. They need to make it clear that actions that put others in danger and in fear are not welcome in their community.”

McNallie says her group would be happy to come do anti-racist education in the area, and could do it virtually to meet pandemic restrictions. However she’s also not sure how effective education may be.

“There is no doubt in my mind that this person knew what he was doing, and what this hood represents – along with those saying there is nothing wrong with it.”

McNallie also says the photo and the comments supporting it are part of a larger problem.

“I am absolutely disgusted. We look at situations like the white nationalist terrorism that took place at Capitol Hill and wonder, ‘How did we get here?’ We got there because we allowed slow accelerationism over four years of Trump’s presidency.”

“Sadly, what is happening in the US is not so far from what has been happening here and what will happen here. Alberta is married to American politics – you can see it in the amount of Confederate flags, MAGA hats and Trump t-shirts on proud display, or how the Proud Boys march freely through our streets without consequence. These symbols are extremely concerning to racialized individuals, but they should be concerning to everyone.”

The federal government in Canada is currently considering whether or not to designate the Proud Boys as a possible terrorist organization after reports of their involvement in the insurrection at the Capitol.

“I want people to know this is not normal,” McNallie says. “Please do not normalize this. A month from now we may see riots in our own streets or a cross burning at City Hall and by then, it’ll be too late to go backwards wishing we would have done something sooner.”

The woman who originally posted the photo and made a police complaint has asked not to be named in news articles out of fear of potential reprisals in her home community.

She says while has not been openly threatened directly, she has seen Facebook comments suggesting she is “stirring up trouble” and she does not want to risk open confrontation from wider attention.

However she also does not want to delete the post as she believes it’s important it’s seen.

“I’m really disheartened to see the anger and hate being directed at myself for having posted the photo,” the original poster says. “There have been a lot of racist and hurtful comments, a lot of jokes and a lot of defense of this individual’s behavior.”

However, she says she is also heartened by wide condemnation of the hood and outpourings of support.

“I hope that people who see this photo, and know this person, inform them that their behavior is reprehensible and unacceptable. I hope that those who find this to be harmless or funny realize that, while we may be faced with a lot of bigotry and hate, there are a lot of Albertans who care and want to do something to make it stop. I hope people have conversations with their loved ones, the ones who find this to be acceptable, and shed some light on how harmful this behavior is.”

“And, if the police are able to find any evidence that this person has intent to cause harm or is dangerous, I hope that they can be reprimanded.”

Anyone with more information or a complaint can contact the Peace Regional RCMP or leave an anonymous tip with Crimestoppers.

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