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Fighting hate in the GTA

John Bell

April 29, 2017

Racists and Islamophobes in Peel Region, the part of the GTA that includes Mississauga, have been working overtime to stir up trouble and hatred. The latest target is space set aside in Peel District School Board high schools for kids to attend Friday prayers.

For about 20 years Peel schools have hosted Jummah–Friday prayers–without problem or incident. They are legally required to do so by the Ontario Human Rights Code. But a recent change of policy, letting kids volunteer to write and deliver the short weekly sermon, was pretext for local white supremacists and Islamophobes go on the offensive.

Bigots mobilized to swamp school board meetings, denouncing Islam in vile terms and in at least one case ripping apart the Qur’an. A spokesperson for the PDSB told The Globe and Mail: “They used language and comments that were the most hateful that I have ever seen in my career. I was actually deeply shaken by what I heard. I’m not sure I’ve ever in my life seen this level of hatred.”

Racism and Islamophobia is at the root, emboldened by the rise of Trump in the US, of Modi’s far-right government in India, of Marine Le Pen in France, and neo-nazi groups elsewhere. Some have tried to disguise and re-brand themselves as “alt-right”, and hypocritically pose as champions of free speech. What they really want is freedom to use hate speech, and to legitimize attacks on others based on race, ethnicity of religion. Others have stuck with the bullying violence that accompanies attempts to revive fascism.

In Peel, racist graffiti has appeared near schools, and an imam has faced death threats. Similar campaigns have happened before. Many of the same racist players came together several years ago to stop the construction of a new mosque.

In a fake news campaign worthy of Breitbart, the Mississauga Gazette ran stories claiming young Muslim men were assaulting young women at a Mississauga high school. Moreover, it claimed that the PDSB was refusing to investigate the assaults. It was all a lie.

The majority of Mississauga’s municipal government have opposed the racists. Mayor Bonnie Crombie has denounced them: “Racism and flat-out lies have no place in Mississauga.”

Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey described a deliberate campaign of “recent misinformation and hateful speech surrounding the accommodation of Muslim prayers.”

Iqra Khalid, the Liberal MP who proposed Bill M-103, represents part of the region. A virtually identical bill decrying growing Islamophobia passed the Ontario Legislature with the support of Patrick Brown’s Conservative caucus. The political clout of immigrant communities in the GTA is keeping the latter in line rather than any superiority over their federal counterparts; these are the seats the Tories will need to steal if they want to win the next election.

Even more important will be the response from anti-racists on the ground. Union activists have promised to attend future PDSB meetings to make sure bigots aren’t able to derail the agenda. And whenever white supremacists announce plans to rally in public, we have to meet them with greater numbers and organization.

The bigots are in a minority in Peel, as elsewhere, but our side has been complacent. If we do nothing their numbers will grow along with their morale. The rise of Trump has raised their morale, and they have organized under new names hiding the same old racist politics. Now it’s up to us to tell them they aren’t welcome in Peel or anywhere else.

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