A family of Eritrean refugees who fled the turmoil in their home country to begin a new life in Winnipeg has become the target of racist threats, a man who helped sponsor them says.
"Tragic that this family moved tens of thousands of miles to kind of start a new life of opportunity, and this is … one of the first impressions that they have of our city and our country," said Ryan Wiebe, who helped sponsor the large family that moved to Manitoba from Eritrea last fall.
Wiebe said a man who lives near the family has been shouting threats and telling them to go back to their own country.
He continues to make threatening gestures at the family, Wiebe says, and at one point appeared to drive his pickup truck at the family while they were walking.
"[He] hit the brakes as they jumped off the road out of the way, and obviously that was terrifying for them," Wiebe said.
"Whether or not he was physically trying to run into them or just trying to scare them or send a message or whatever the case, it's obviously very terrifying."
The family has contacted a lawyer and reported the incidents to police, but that hasn't alleviated their worries entirely, Wiebe said.
"For the mother involved, she has to know everyday her kids are walking past this house," Wiebe said. "Obviously, as a parent, I can imagine how terrifying that would be — to know that your kids are walking past an individual like this."
Sel Burrows, chair of the Point Douglas Residents Committee, says people in the neighbourhood consider the man a white supremacist.
He has a Confederate flag in a window in his home and the word "Satan" running across the back of his pickup truck, Burrows says. The man has also been blocked from the committee's Facebook page for posting racist materials.
"For us that is just totally unacceptable," Burrows said. "We're working very hard at being a non-racist, accepting community."
Burrows says the harassment tapered off for a month after a member of the Winnipeg police paid the man a visit. About two months ago, Wiebe called Burrows to let him know the intimidation tactics had returned.
"The white supremacist had been making shooting motions" at one of the teenage boys in the Eritrean family, Burrows said, "pretending to shoot him."
"As a residents committee we felt really upset that somebody would treat one of our residents like that," he said.
"Community support unit Winnipeg police officers went to visit the white supremacist and sort of read the riot act to him. They were very good at that, letting him know that he was right on the edge of a serious criminal charge."
As far as Burrows knows there hasn't been any further racist behaviour since the last visit by police.
"But I can imagine with all the hell going on in the States and the little bit in Canada it's even more scary," Burrows said.
"We're hoping they'll stay. We would like good to conquer evil and if there's anything the community can do to support them, we're going to be stepping up."