Conflict in Calgary’s left and right-wing movements
Exploring extremism rising in our city and across the country
By Qassim Merali, Contributor
The Devine household is rather typical, with their children at play, the rooms fill with gleeful laughter. They await the return of their mother, Bonnie Devine who is coming back with groceries, anticipating snacks in particular for an upcoming “Stranger Things” marathon.
There is a somber tone however; with the curtains drawn, natural light is limited for the sake of privacy.
The tone is telling of the experiences this family had shared.
Calgary is the epitome of division in Canada, home to some of the most extreme left and right-wing activists in the country. Following the beginning of the Trump administration in particular, Calgary has seen a rise in rather extreme right-wing movements.
Both sides seek to disenfranchise one another, and as the activism reaches extremist levels on the fringes of each wing, the division naturally grows.
This is highlighted by the thoughts and actions of Jason and Bonnie Devine — as well as those who oppose them.
Jason and Bonnie Devine are a white married couple with four children. It is fair to question what would cause family-driven Caucasian individuals to put themselves at the center of an issue they initially had no stock in. Furthermore, subjecting themselves to controversy in their anti-racist actions.
Orchestrating Anti-Racist Action in Calgary, the Devine’s are a target for numerous assaults and acts of vandalism, in addition to criticism due to their methods.
Devine states that he got into anti-racist action in 2001 after joining the Communist Party of Canada. His goal is to promote a message of equality.
Devine’s affiliation with the Communist Party of Canada naturally added fuel to the fire that was Calgary’s right-wing movements furthering their activities in response to fears of a Bolshevik style movement from the left.
No longer affiliated with the Canadian Communist Party, Devine abandoned the group after a pair of incidents.
Beginning with the Greek Communist Party’s support of the Fascist Party of the Golden Dawn to prevent the passing of a bill to legalize gay marriage two years ago, Devine spoke against this publicly attracting criticism from his former affiliates.
This was followed up by demands for him to leave his post which were refused on the basis of censorship.
Following the incident, Devine alleges that there was a sexual assault in Canada’s Communist Party, in which the leadership had deftly attempted to cover it up in a gamble to maintain their following.
The fiasco is unsurprising considering the number of sexual assault allegations directed towards people in positions of power throughout a number of industries. Devine believes that this is a common issue due to the general consensus of many organizations dedications, preferring to save face rather than uphold a moral standard.
Despite losing the initial reason behind his actions, Devine iterates that, “At the end of the day I’m not a person of colour, I’m a substitute teacher with Palliser and I’ve worked only at the Calgary Islamic School. I’ve had more than a number of students, female students telling me about how they’ve been called terrorist, how they’ve had people try to rip off their Hijabs. I have to do this; somebody has to do this you know?”
Devine worries that most recently people have been triggered by the decay of white privilege, leading to reactionary forces seeking to increase division in a last-ditch effort to protect their powers.
Anti-Racist Action has evolved over the years, causing difficulties in establishing the action plan.
Devine shares that most activists go on to find other causes, preventing long-term consistency.
Perhaps that explains why tenured activists Jason and Bonnie Devine are subject to harassment more than most over the years.
Starting with the Fuck Jason Devine website, things started to snowball into a relentless effort from right-wing activists, leading to numerous acts of vandalism such as the slashing of the family van tires, and the unfortunately frequent spray painting of swastikas on their home and vehicle.
Things began to take a violent turn with bricks breaking windows, and a failed firebombing that had luckily ignited in mid-air before hitting Devine and his friend.
“The thing is when you’re in the movement long enough,” Devine states, “you had better be ready to see blowback from these individuals.”
Tensions peaked during a break-in at the Devine home in 2011.
After moving from their previous home, the Devine’s hope that their tormentors wouldn’t find them, but the newfound peace was short lived.
A suddenly emotional Devine details that, “There were about six or seven of them all armed with weapons … I was laying right there by the fridge trying to protect myself while they were hammering me in the head and all-over my body and I thought I was going to die, I thought that was it, I thought I would never see my wife or my kids again. Thankfully I survived.”
Unfortunately that isn’t the end of it.
Following the assault, Alberta Children and Youth Services attempted to seize the custody of their children after deeming their home an unsafe environment.
Devine alleges that a number of right-wing movements had made fake calls warning youth services that he had been putting his children in danger.
With their history of activism, naturally the Devine’s are not going to take this sitting down, and after threats of protest in the offices of their accusers, youth services back off of their case.
After many years and challenges on multiple fronts, the Devine’s stand strong in their anti-racist activities, continuing to hang up posters exposing alleged members of the Neo-Nazi movement — regardless of the cost and risk attributed to their activities.
Posters hanging and exposing people that Devine believes are fascists is where the controversy stems.
The posters contain a name, photo, home address and personal number of the accused.
Now more than ever, oppression reveals itself to be a perspective-based issue, and no side holds opposing views more than Calgary’s right-wing movements.
Two members of Devine’s opposition are happy to share their views on the matter.
First falling victim to Devine’s poster hanging methods is the founder of the World Coalition Against Islam, Joey Deluca.
Deluca claims, “Just before the June 3rd rally they were trying to intimidate me… so they found out where I lived, and they put up posters of me all-over my whole neighborhood. With my phone number, address, everything and you know that’s going too far.”
A shocking sentiment when taking into account the danger that befell the Devine’s after their home address is leaked to the opposing side.
This is not to say that Deluca and the WCAI are not deserving of criticism, holding sway over right-wing activists around the world, the primarily Facebook based organization seems to hold some fascist sentiments that would go overlooked if not properly addressed.
The key issue in WCAI is their use of an ‘us against them’ mentality which furthers the divide between Canadians and immigrants. After a brief run through their Facebook page, it is apparent that they rely on old fascist tactics to reinforce their idealized power structure.
Devine may be taking his actions too far by putting individual members at risk, however, the fact of the matter is that the WCAI is a dangerous organization, bringing together right-wing extremists under a banner of politically incorrect patriotism steeped in self-contradiction and hatred of anything they disagree with.
The WCAI eerily echoes former fascist movements in that their only uniting quality is the aggressive tendencies towards those they would deem unworthy of their ideal society. Targeted groups include but are not limited to Africans, Muslims — a moniker that leads to attacks on non-muslim Arabs as well due to the WCAI’s inability to differentiate between the two — and the LGBTQ2S community.
Second in contention with Devine is controversial figure and preacher Artur Pawlowski.
Pawlowski believes, “He’s trying to muzzle people by bringing fear, and fear is never good,” in reference to Devine’s poster hanging methods.
Pawlowski has his fair share of run-ins with anti-fascists (ANTIFA); his controversial message is spread through Pawlowski’s “Street Church” program.
Members of Anti-Racist Calgary show up to protest the church rallies on numerous occasions, often booing and chanting over the sermons, as well as allegedly physically attacking members of the rally.
Leftist idealists would target these sermons due to their direct affiliation with WCAI whom provide security, as well as Pawlowski’s open criticisms of the LGBTQ2S community and Islam.
It should be mentioned that Pawlowski’s church shouldn’t only be viewed as a source of division, with a number of humanitarian efforts highlighted by their work to feed the homeless and council addicts.
A conclusive look would reveal that for the most part, a difference in opinion has been twisted into a point for hatred on both sides.
Both movements have understandable intentions, but as long as it is easier for activists on either side of the spectrum to rally behind mutual hate in preference over stark conversation, progress will be hard to come by.