An aggressive postering campaign by members of Anti-Racist Action Calgary garnered a lot of attention the first day of Winter classes. Though the original posters themselves lasted a mere day, their daring approach and controversial content was enough to leave a strong impression on anyone paying attention.
On January 11th, students returning from their Holiday break were greeted by posters announcing in bold letters that a person had gone missing. But as the poster's contents revealed, the specific person -- a female -- had not gone missing in the normal sense of the word. Instead, the poster claimed that the person identified was not only a student at the U of C but also actively involved with extreme right-wing politics extolling white supremacy.
Shown in a photograph giving the approximation of a fascist salute alongside an outspoken Neo Nazi white supremacist and Aryan Guard founding member, the poster briefly described the student and invited others to engage her.
"If you see her she should be approached with disdain, mocking laughter and much finger pointing," said the poster. "Feel free to express your own viewpoints on racism on her, as she is here to learn."
Anti-Racist Action spokesperson Jason Devine said the primary focus of the campaign was to serve as a warning to U of C students and the public in general of the presence of someone involved in what many consider a violent racist gang.
"We really believe that anybody who has one of these individuals living around them, or going to school with them, or going to work, would be very interested in finding out," Devine said. "We don't think that people who deny the Holocaust, who think that Adolf Hitler is cool, [who are] in essence racist white supremacists, should get a free ride. We don't think that they should be able to spew their hatred on the internet, through leaflets or flyers, and yet walk around incognito as if they're a regular or average person. I think these people should be unmasked and shown for what they are."
An unaffiliated student reportedly suffered as a result of the campaign.
"We are not out there to cause trouble for people who are clearly innocent, who are not racist," said Devine. "The posters got cleared down and we decided that we were gonna continue postering, but that we'd reconfigure the posters so that nobody who's clearly not a target of the poster would be targeted."
The revised posters contained more information regarding the reported racist nature of the targeted individual by highlighting some crucial racist remarks that the subject had allegedly made online. As well, the issue was reframed as a "Public Service Announcement."
Though observers have noted that the campaign has a lot in common with "outing," the highly invasive and controversial act of exposing someone living disparate private and public sexual identities, assistant professor of German Michael Taylor is hesitant to draw parallels between the two.
"I think there's a question, there's a gray area, about whether those are public remarks or whether those are private remarks," said Taylor. "Whether she's speaking there openly, or under an alias: I think those are complicated questions. I don't think that this is a clear cut case of somebody having a right to private behaviour that's being violated by being outed."
Invasion of privacy or not, Professor of New Media and U of C Communication Division Head, Maria Bakardjieva, questions the information presented by the posters.
"The [party] making the allegations is no recognized authority to me," Bakardjieva said. "The first question that I would ask . . . is whether this is correct, whether there is truth in these allegations. I'm afraid I don't see an easy way to prove any of them immediately by just looking at these [posters]."
Anti-Racist Action Calgary, however, is confident in the information's accuracy.
"The fact of the matter is, the white power movement is notoriously full of informers," said Devine. "There's lots of people who are very beautiful human beings, who are not racist in the least, but will pose as racist to gather information on these people."
Public reaction to the posters has thus far been mixed, running the gamut from outright condemnation to praise and thanks.
"To us, those [notes] are worth far more than mountains of threats of violence against us," quipped Devine.