In addition to calling for the deaths of Israelis, denying the Holocaust, praising terrorism and referring to Jews as inhuman, the annual Al-Quds Day rally in Toronto has now raised mundane questions of permits and jurisdictions.
And the city councillor who slammed the provincial government for hosting this year’s Al-Quds event is now faced with the reality that it actually took place on municipal property.
Organizers and critics of the rally alike have said that the June 24 event, which resulted in a police hate crimes complaint, took place at Queen’s Park, the grounds that include Ontario’s legislature.
In a statement two days before the rally, Toronto Councillor James Pasternak said that it was “disgraceful that a rally with speakers supporting the destruction of Israel, denying the Holocaust and making racial slurs is permitted to take place at the site of Ontario’s democratic legislature.”
But Premier Kathleen Wynne and the legislature’s sergeant-at-arms say that’s not true.
In a June 20 statement, Wynne pointed out that the use of the grounds of the Ontario legislature falls within the responsibility of the Speaker of the assembly. The sergeant-at-arms, who reports to the Speaker, “has advised that there is no Al-Quds event scheduled to take place at Queen’s Park,” Wynne stated.
Jackie Gordon, Ontario sergeant-at-arms, confirmed to The CJN that this year’s protest took place in the so-called “north park,” a large park north of the legislative buildings and outside the boundaries of Queen’s Park.
“There was no event held on the legislative grounds,” Gordon said. The north park “is not part of the legislative precinct.”
Maps show that the portion of Queen’s Park that’s under the control of the provincial government is separated by College Street to the south and Wellesley Street to the north.
The park north of Wellesley is owned by the University of Toronto and leased by the City of Toronto.
Pasternak said that as far as he knows, no permit was issued by the city for the rally.
“The question becomes whether we can block (the rally) from coming onto city property, maybe with a trespass order,” Pasternak told The CJN by email.
He said that planned events such as the Al-Quds protest probably would need a permit, but that its organizers “would not likely” get one because of the city’s anti-discrimination policy that all permit holders must sign and adhere to.
“Queen’s Park North is a City of Toronto park” and is “not available for any permits whatsoever,” Matthew Cutler, spokesperson for Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation, told The CJN.
He said protests in Toronto parks are not permitted and that violations are handled by bylaw-enforcement officers, or police. The city received an anonymous call about “a potential protest” regarding the Al-Quds Day event, but did not receive any complaints and municipal officials did not attend, Cutler said.
As for future Al-Quds rallies, Cutler said that “regardless of the content of the event, it wasn’t permitted and wouldn’t be permitted in the future.”
Following this year’s Al-Quds Day rally, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center filed a hate speech complaint with police against a speaker for saying, in English and Arabic, that, “Israel, Zionism, should and must know … it is the law that whoever oppresses, he has to be eliminated. One day or the other.”
Last year, the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board suspended one of its teachers for glorifying terrorists and calling for violence against Israelis in a speech at the Al-Quds protest.
In 2015, the sergeant-at-arms denied a permit for the rally, citing the Pan Am and Parapan American Games being hosted in Toronto as the reasons.
The year before, a speaker from the Council for Islamic Guidance called Israelis, Zionists and Jews “inhuman,” while a pro-Palestinian activist said residents of the Israeli town of Sderot were “sadistic and criminal Zionists.”
At the 2013 rally, Elias Hazineh, a former head of Palestine House, delivered an “ultimatum” to Israelis: “You have to leave Jerusalem. You have to leave Palestine. We say get out or you’re dead! We give them two minutes and then we start shooting.”
A hate crimes complaint against Hazineh was filed, but no charges were laid.
The 2011 rally heard from an Iranian student who said that “the Zionist regime sucks the resources, the blood and everything that belongs to the people all across the world.”
In all past instances, Jewish organizations called on the sergeant-at-arms to deny a permit to hold the event at Queen’s Park.
The CJN’s queries to Al-Quds Day organizers were not answered.
Al-Quds Day, which began in Iran in 1979, is held around the world on the last day of Ramadan and calls for the “liberation” of Jerusalem.