By Sahar Ashraf and Shafiqullah Aziz
The Toronto March for Freedom, Liberty and Justice Against M-103 was held at Toronto City Hall on Saturday, March 4th at noon. Nearly 100 “Canadian patriots” came out to protest Motion 103, which was presented in the House of Commons on February 15 by Mississauga Liberal MP Iqra Khalid. The motion calls on the government to recognize the increasing public climate of Islamophobia in Canada, condemn it, and begin collecting data on Islamophobic hate crimes.
The rally was organized by the Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens (CCCC), who believe that Motion 103 both infringes on Canadian values and free speech, and advocates for Islamic legislation, also known as Sharia Law. Protesters initiated the event by singing the national anthem, followed by several speakers who shared their experiences living in countries with a Muslim majority.
A counter-protest planned by the Organizing Committee Against Islamophobia (OCAI) began an hour before, with over 400 protesters gathering to condemn Islamophobia, white supremacy and fascism. Counter-protesters held up signs that read “love and support our Muslim neighbours” and chanted “Muslims are welcome here, no hate, no fear.”
Speakers representing the counter-protest denounced Canada’s history of fostering Islamophobia by enacting Islamophobic laws like the Barbaric Cultural Practices Act; promoting wars and imperialism abroad as the second largest arms dealer in the Middle East; and being one of the only countries to vote against a Palestinian state. “Canada has never been great,” said one speaker.
Although Motion 103 was a small attempt to officially recognize the fear that people in the Muslim community live under every day, the proposal has no indication of any concrete actions the government will take, apart from data collection. However, M-103 has been met with fierce opposition from Islamophobic groups like the CCCC.
Individuals who were protesting the motion on Saturday cited freedom of speech as their main concern, but when pressed further, many expressed explicitly anti-Muslim views. “Islamic rape gangs are terrorizing Europe right now, we here are seeing a similar situation. There is literally an Islamic rape epidemic that is happening over there,” said one protester who was holding a sign with a caricature of the prophet Mohammed. These allegations of Islamic rape gangs have been proven false by several sources.
Many other protesters were highly concerned about the spread of radical Islam bringing Sharia Law to Canada. Another protester, Trish, made a distinction between what she perceived as “good Muslims” and “radical muslims,” and advocated for inclusion of these good Muslims into Canadian society. Trish explained, “We’re going against M-103 for the freedom of good Muslims and the protection of good Muslims!”
The protest and counter-protest at City Hall saw a large presence of police on foot, on bikes, and on horseback. Police quickly formed a line of defence to protect the CCCC protest group from counter-protesters. Over 20 police encircled the anti-Muslim protesters, while several other police kept a lookout from an overhead bridge.
There were at least three arrests made during the rally. Two scuffles broke out between the groups, leading to police targeting the counter-protesters, performing violent takedowns and arresting them. Police thrusted a counter-protester’s face against the concrete ground while handcuffing them. In another instance, three police shoved a counter-protester into a police car as their friends shouted, “Let him go!”
The protest organized by the CCCC follows a wave of hate crimes and attacks on Muslims in Canada. On February 17, worshippers entering a downtown Toronto mosque were harassed by anti-Muslim protesters. On February 18, a young Muslim woman in Mississauga was the victim of a savage physical assault by a man and woman who kicked her in the face, threw her down a set of stairs and yelled, “Get out of here you immigrants!” On February 25, two Muslim men who were handing out Qur’ans and sharing information on Islam in front of St. Lawrence Market were sprayed with urine. On February 28, an Islamic information centre on Weston Road was set on fire in the middle of the night.
Most recently, Muslims at Concordia University were targeted by bomb threats on March 1. Prior to that, the most violent attack on Muslims happened at the Grand Mosque in Quebec City, where a white supremacist opened fire and massacred six Muslims and seriously injured nine more while they were praying on January 29.
Although Saturday’s counter-protest in Toronto drew out hundreds of people who stood against Islamophobia, white supremacy and fascism, attacks on Muslims and other minority groups continue throughout Canada. As various groups organize themselves under the banner of “freedom, liberty, justice and Canadian values,” it becomes increasingly important for us to be constantly vigilant and understand that we will not be able to defend ourselves from racist attacks with empty slogans like “be cool to each other” or “no hate.”
If the racists are getting organized, it is imperative that we get organized. Building organizations that will be able to defend our communities is the immediate task ahead of us, and it will take a lot more than a few hundred to “make racists afraid again.”