“Say it loud, say it clear, Muslims are welcome here!” That was one of the many chants that rang out through Nathan Phillips Square on Saturday, March 4, as several hundred anti-racists rallied against Islamophobia outside Toronto’s City Hall.
The gathering was called in response to a call for a “March for Freedom, Liberty and Justice against Motion M-103” by the Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens (CCCC), a group that seems to be a collection of various Islamophobic and anti-immigrant groups that planned a Canada-wide action on March 4.
The Liberal Motion M-103, a bill meant “to recognize and quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear” and “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination” has sent Islamophobes into a panic. Many of their representatives have described the motion as special treatment for a religious group, an attack on free speech, or a stealth plot to institute Sharia Law in Canada.
This past week, a similarly named group at Concordia University, the Council of Concerned Citizens of Canada (C4), claimed responsibility for a bomb threat directed at Muslim students at the university.
Upon hearing of the CCCC march, a diverse set of groups mobilized to counter the hate with a powerful show of solidarity. Acting quickly, Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith groups, left wing groups of many stripes, trade unionists and anti-racist coalitions organized their members to occupy the square before the CCCC and their members could show up.
By the time the CCCC had shown up, they were outnumbered roughly 800 to 25 and were forced to hold their rally in a corner of the square on top of some planters, surrounded by a police line.
Some confusion occurred as many anti-racist demonstrators swarmed around the bigots to confront and drown them out, while others stayed at the stage continuing the demonstration that had begun before the CCCC had shown up.
While some were quick to paint this as a clash between liberal anti-racism and radical militant confrontation, what it really demonstrates is the need for organization and planning. With a bit more discussion, a louder speaker and a bit of a plan about how to respond to the presence of the CCCC, any confusion or uncertainty could have easily been erased.
Regardless, the anti-racist demonstration (all of it) has to be viewed as a tremendous success.
The message from our side was clear: we oppose the rising tide of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim hatred and aggression and we will collectively respond to it wherever it rears its head. The CCCC demo was absolutely engulfed and no one could hear their hateful message over the boos and chants of the counter-protestors. A group of hundreds of people who felt the power of collectively shutting down a group of vocal bigots who held signs that described immigrants as rapists and who echoed Kelly Leitch’s characterizations of Muslims as barbaric and opposed to “Canadian Values.”
The bigots, hiding behind lines of police, eventually wrapped up their rally and had to run out of the square under police protection with their tails between their legs, as hundreds chanted “Nah nah nah nah hey hey hey goodbye” and “Nazi scum off our streets!” The show of strength by the anti-racist forces in Toronto demonstrate the potential power of our movement and the challenges we will face going forward.
Confronting Islamophobic racists is absolutely necessary in this moment. We must not allow them to organize publicly without challenge. But in doing so, we need to make sure that we are shutting them down by drawing on the collective strength of our movement. In this moment, some will advocate isolated acts of violence or other secretive means of combatting the threat posed by bigots. But our strength lies in our collective power to shut them down and publicly expose their hateful propaganda. We need to act in ways that increase the confidence and combativity of ordinary people to challenge racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia wherever it rears its ugly head.
The March 4 action demonstrates our power and the need for us to organize thoughtfully and collectively to defeat this hateful backlash.