Assault charge laid after violence erupts at Peterborough anti-racism rally

Police in Peterborough, Ont., say a 22-year-old man has been charged with assault causing bodily harm after a protest against a planned anti-immigration rally took a violent turn on Saturday.

Upwards of 500 people descended on Confederation Square to voice their discontent for the event, which had originally been slated to take place at the public park.

News of the contentious rally made headlines earlier this week when Peterborough Mayor Daryl Bennett said the city was unable to deny a permit for the "non-violent rally against immigration policies and the Trudeau government."

The event was organized by a group calling itself the Canadian Nationalist Front described on its website as a nationalist organization that "would like to see the return to Canada's original predominantly white-European and Native Aboriginal ethnic make up."

Earlier this week, the group's chairman, Kevin Goudreau, told CBC/Radio-Canada he expected around 20 people to attend the anti-immigration rally.

But a day before the event was set to take place, the city confirmed it would not issue a permit for the rally to take place on its property, saying organizers hadn't filled out the necessary paperwork in time.

Organizer a no-show

Goudreau himself did not attend on Saturday, tweeting he could not do so "in good conscience" and "consideration for people's safety."

The counter-protest began peacefully enough with attendees engaging in art activities and drumming.

"There was a well advertised protest that was supposed to be anti-Trudeau, anti-immigration, which was likely properly characterized and identified as a hate propaganda event," Peterborough police Chief Murray Rodd told CBC News.

"The community stood up against that, organized peaceful events at various venues around the city and at the church just adjacent to the park."

But around 2:45 p.m., police say some in the crowd covered their heads and faces to conceal their identity and a shouting match ensued between a man and a woman, during which an officer was allegedly assaulted.

Meanwhile a man dressed in camouflage arrived to the park and created what police described as a disturbance.

Police say they were speaking with the man when a group of demonstrators converged on him and violence broke out, during which they say he sustained an injury to the mouth.

A 22-year-old has been charged and remains in custody, police say.

Tensions peaked when a woman whose face was covered was arrested and placed in a police car, which was then surrounded.

"Things got a little bit out of hand at that point in time," Staff Sgt. Marc Habgood told CBC News.

Social media 'a double-edged sword'

Police say the woman was released at the time but that they are continuing their investigation and may bring forward more criminal charges.

"One faction that appears to have been responsible for any violence that occurred would be the Peterborough anti-fascist movement. They were identified by being unidentifiable, they were wearing masks … and they seemed to be at the root of the obstruction of the police and our attempt to execute our lawful duties with respect to effecting arrests," Rodd said.

Police say they will be reviewing video footage of the incident as part of their investigation.

"Social media is a double-edged sword because it provided communication and co-ordination for organizers of all the different factions," said Rodd.

"But it also provided ample footage to identify who potentially could be paid, professional antagonists and representatives of various factions of hate and we will analyze it all."

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