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Nationalist rally planned in Toronto on the anniversary of Charlottesville attack

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Charlottesville "Unite the Right" rally (Flickr photo)

Jewish organizations, police, anti-hate groups and others are girding for a rally this Saturday (Aug. 11) in Toronto by members of several far-right, nationalist and anti-Muslim groups.

The Calgary-based Worldwide Coalition Against Islam (WCAI) is planning to hold the rally in Nathan Phillips Square starting at 2 p.m.

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network, which monitors and exposes racist groups, says rally organizers are hoping for 200 to attend, including “the most physically aggressive far-right groups, like the Soldiers of Odin, Proud Boys, and the Northern Guard.”

The anti-hate network is calling for counter-demonstrators from faith, community, anti-racist, labour, and Jewish organizations.

“It’s primarily an anti-Muslim and neo-Nazi rally, not an alt-right rally,” Evan Balgord, executive director of the Toronto-based Canadian Anti-Hate Network, told The CJN.

The groups involved “aren’t the kind that use memes,” Balgord said. “They are the kind that have leaders with swastika flags hung in their garage. Maybe some of the younger, upwardly mobile alt-right Nazi variety will come, but it’s not their show.”

Toronto police “are aware of this event and, like others, it will be attended by the Toronto Police Service to ensure the safety of all involved,” TPS spokesperson Jenifferjit Sidhu told The CJN.

There were some rumblings online that organizers were not granted a permit for the rally, but permits are not issued for rallies or protests at Nathan Phillips Square, according to City of Toronto spokesperson Jaclyn Carlisle.

But Mayor John Tory told The CJN the rally “is unpermitted. It shouldn’t be permitted and won’t be permitted by the city.” But, he added, “people show up at Nathan Philipps Square [as] they show up at other places in the city, like the Al Quds rally.

“There is no place for anti-hate rallies of any kind, directed at any group in Toronto. It’s just not acceptable,” Tory said.

He said the city’s executive committee is studying how to deal with hateful protests, including the annual Al Quds Day rally. Among the ideas floated is to send organizers bills for policing the events.

Freedom of speech and assembly are valued but “we do draw the line at hate speech,” and while “we can’t physically stop you with any ease, we can send you a huge bill.”

The city must find ways to ensure there are “consequences to crossing that line into hate speech,” Tory stated.

Toronto Ward 10 Councillor James Pasternak has been after the city for months to develop a policy on hate groups that use municipal property.

“This is a big problem and this is what we’re trying to get our city staff to act on,” he told The CJN.

“These kinds of gatherings are an affront to everybody. They’re repugnant. They’re not in keeping with our anti-discrimination policy,” Pasternak said.

He said permits are required if a gathering has a sound system and seating. Saturday’s protest doesn’t appear to require those, if past protests are an indication.

Toronto “needs a strong policy to put an end to this kind of hate rally.”

He said the police’s priority is to de-escalate any situation. “They don’t storm crowds with clubs. That just creates more martyrs for a cause and more publicity.”

But as the same time, “we should be going after these groups for taking up public space, violating a series of city policies and making sure we discourage it from happening again.”

READ: ARREST WARRANT STILL OUTSTANDING FOR OTTAWA RESIDENT CHARGED WITH ASSAULT

Saturday’s rally is slated to coincide with the first anniversary of the “Unite the Right” event in Charlottesville, VA, which saw neo-Nazis marching with tiki torches, giving the Nazi straight-arm salute, and shouting, “Jews will not replace us!”

The Charlottesville rally culminated in the murder of counter-protester Heather Heyer when a neo-Nazi rammed his car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators, injuring many others.

“After the [Toronto] rally, the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam intends to lead their own torch march through Toronto, mirroring the Nazi-inspired torch march in Charlottesville last year,” the anti-hate group warns on its website.

Asked for comment, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre said: “FSWC does not support nor agree with this movement.”

In an Aug. 7 letter to Tory, B’nai Brith Canada strongly urged the city to cancel the rally.

The rally is “intended to promote hatred and possibly violence,” which B’nai Brith pointed out violates the city’s policy on hate activity.

But in a response the next day from Omo Akintan, Acting Director of Equity, Diversity and Human Rights for Toronto, B’nai Brith was told the rally will go on as planned.

The city has a “Hate Activity Policy” with which users of public spaces are expected to comply, Akintan wrote. “The policy prohibits use of city facilities and spaces for hate activity as defined in the policy. We will continue to enforce the policy. The city will not tolerate, ignore, or condone illegal discrimination or harassment including any rally that incites hatred and/or violence against groups or persons.

“To that end, the city has already taken actions to address this matter which includes the preparation of an event plan with the Toronto Police Service that has the life safety of everyone as the primary concern.”

B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn said: “We hope and pray that nothing even close to what happened in Charlottesville last year will be repeated in Toronto. We can’t help but be concerned.”

The Centre for Israel and Jewish affairs said it is “outraged that hateful groups are planning to promote their toxic agenda in the heart of Toronto on the anniversary of the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville. It is grotesque that WCAI claims to be defending Canada by promoting bigotry. To the contrary, hatred against Muslims or any other minority is an assault on Canada’s core values.”

CIJA said it has also reached out to city officials and law enforcement. It urges counter-protesters to exercise caution and follow police instructions.

 The CJN’s messages to the Jewish Defence League of Canada were not returned. Last year, the JDL announced a partnership with the Soldiers of Odin, which it said was not racist.

As of Aug. 8, two Jewish organizations endorsed a Facebook page called “Stop the Hate Rally,” which calls for a counter-protest: United Jewish People’s Order/Winchevsky Centre, and Oraynu Congregation for Humanistic Judaism.

A similar “Canada-first,” anti-immigration rally held last month on Parliament Hill fizzled when only about 100 marchers turned out – “or about 900 fewer than organizers had expected,” noted the Ottawa Citizen.

The Ottawa rally saw participation from the Canadian Combat Coalition, or C3, as the self-described Canadian patriots call the group.

Some supporters identified themselves as Solders of Odin and others were seen wearing the garb of the Storm Alliance, an anti-immigrant group that’s been active in Quebec since 2016, when it broke off from the Soldiers of Odin.

Members of the ultranationalist, men-only, anti-immigrant group Northern Guard also attended the “peaceful” rally in full colours, the Citizen reported, noting that there were more tourists than protesters on Parliament Hill that day.

A year ago in Vancouver, an anti-Muslim, anti-immigration rally staged by the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam and the Cultural Action Party was overwhelmed by some 4,000 counter-protesters.

The WCAI’s logo is a robed, turbaned Muslim man with a pig’s face being booted out of Canada.

In a July 28 Facebook post, WCAI leader Joey De Luca wrote that his group is coming to Toronto on Aug. 11 “whether Antifa [anti-fascists] likes or not. If they try to block us we will march right through them, simple as that. Nobody in history ever took back their country by cowering from the enemy. They thrive on fear and intimidation to bully you out of your freedom of speech. When you’re a warrior you have no fear. FEAR is a form of admiration. FEAR is the first breath of defeat. WCAI only breaths (sic) the air of the brave and on August 11th we will march into Nathan Phillips square chanting WORLD COALITION AGAINST ISLAM with our allies on our way to victory.”

The WCAI, through its Facebook account and other social media, has “repeatedly” called for violence against Muslims, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network alleges.

Their activity has been reported to police, Richard Warman, an anti-hate expert, lawyer and board member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, says on the group’s website.

However, Warman notes, the law has not been enforced, and this Saturday’s rally is taking place because “hatemongers…feel emboldened. We urge law enforcement to take action immediately.”

The anti-hate network estimates there are more than 130 active right-wing extremist groups in Canada. Most explicitly target Muslims and Jews, but also express “extreme misogyny,” anti-LGBTQ sentiment, and hatred of people of colour, Indigenous groups and the disabled.