A coalition of groups gathered inside Toronto’s Kew Gardens to counter-act what was supposed to be an anti-Trudeau rally Saturday afternoon.
Members of the East Enders Against Racism, SAFE (Solidarity Against Fascism Everywhere), and IWWW General Defense Committee Local 28 were joined be other Torontonians to counter what they say was a white supremacist rally.
A man, who tried to organize what he called an anti-Trudeau and anti-Immigration rally in Peterborough, promoted and later announced the cancellation of this weekend’s event in the popular Toronto park.
“Today was a block party, a celebration of community and really to bring the east community together against hate, facism and white supremacy,” said Sarah Ali, who was there representing SAFE.
Though the event was promoted by organizers as an anti-Trudeau really, members of the coalition group say it’s a white supremacist rally that sets a racist agenda.
“In our minds and in the minds of the community, you can re-brand yourself as many times as you want and say what you think your message is, but if you have a swastika tattooed on your body, we know what your message is,” Ali explains.
“We all have been disturbed by the open presence of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the city of Toronto,” said Rabea Murtazea, another attendee.
Murtazea is part of a group called East Enders Against Racism, which was formed a year ago as an organized response to racist posters that continue to be found in and around the neighbourhood. The coalition’s goal Saturday was to combat fear, support the groups that are often the targets of these rallies and take back public spaces.
“I remember white supremacists recruiting at my high school in the 90’s in North York, but I’m horrified that it’s become so public” Murtazea explains. “It’s critical that we show that the community will not accept it.”
This weekend’s cancelled rally is the second one that’s been organized in Toronto within less than a month. In October, there were clashes and arrests after one man organized what he called an anti-Trudeau rally on the front steps of City Hall.
“It normalizes for people here, the neighbours, the kids, that this is a part of the regular political discourse and it’s not, it’s very dangerous,” Murtazea said. “It’s something we only hold at bay through our active efforts together.”
David McNally is a political science professor and advocate, who has been involved in anti-racism causes and movements dating back to the 1970s. He attended this weekend’s event as a show of solidarity, saying hate rallies like the ones we’ve recently seen in Toronto and Peterborough are tactical in nature.
“They’re concerning because you’ve got far-right, white supremacist and even neo-Nazi groups that are trying to claim legitimacy in our society,” he said. “They’re trying to project themselves as being a legitimate voice, when in fact their agenda is one of hate and racism, and we know they stand for violence against members of our community.”
One of the tactics employed, said McNally, is using fear to insinuate themselves into political life around Canada.
“They draw people in by anit-Muslim fear, and they hope that in doing that they can inculcate people further in their white supremacist belief systems,” he said. “They may be saying anti-Trudeau and that’s free speech after all, but what is the full agenda that they’re trying to recruit people to once they get them to these events?”
Professor McNally says these groups use rallies to try and normalize their presence, and politicize a message they hope will gain traction. He adds that it’s important to expose what groups like the Soldiers of Odin and the Proud Boys stand for.
“Soldiers of Odin are a far right anti-immigrant group that originated in Finland, and their purpose has been to go around the streets and beat up immigrants and refugees, that’s their practice and they believe in white supremacy,” he said. “The Proud Boys are associated with glorifying and defending a statue in Halifax of a severely anti-Indigenous political figure, Cornwallis.”
Last week, cards that read “God is a racist” were left around the Beaches neighbourhood. McNally says the public needs to get more creative when countering these messages of hate.
“We need to figure out how to really raise awareness within our communities about what these far-right extremists, white supremacist groups are up to,” he said. “We need to be doing so much more in terms of outreach, into communities, schools and workplaces.