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City of Toronto takes steps to curb hate rallies

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An Al-Quds Day rally in Toronto in 2009. HUMBLESLAVE/FLICKR

The City of Toronto has adopted sweeping measures to try and curb “hate-sponsored rallies” on its property.

City council voted unanimously on May 14 to endorse a dozen recommendations that were adopted by the executive committee on May 1.

Effectively, the recommendations to city staff and police put organizers of the annual Al-Quds Day rally, which is scheduled for June 1 this year, on notice that from now on, they may require permits, receive trespass warnings or face hate charges for events held on municipal property.

Since 2015, the Al-Quds rally, at which people have called for overt acts of violence against Israelis, has met in a city park just north of the provincial legislature.

Organizers of hate rallies could also be hit with costs for policing, traffic re-routing and clean-up.

As well, the measures call on police to take “swift and immediate action against any group found to be contravening the law and advocating anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia or any other forms of hatred contrary to the Criminal Code.”

READ: FORD PLEDGES TO ‘TAKE ACTION’ AGAINST AL-QUDS DAY RALLY

Coun. James Pasternak, who’s been working for three years to end rallies that spout hate on city property, told The CJN that, “We gave city staff and police services a legal framework, guiding principles and tools to prevent, discourage and penalize groups who use the public realm to promote hateful comments and threats. We have directed city staff to act aggressively (to stop the spread of) hate and anti-Semitism on our streets, parks, squares and other spaces.”

He said the policy will be reviewed in the future to make sure it is working.

The following day, on May 15, council approved a motion requesting that Toronto Police Services consider the creation of task force on security at places of worship.

Introduced by Coun. Mike Colle, the “Worship Security Task Force,” as the motion calls it, would involve all three levels of government and look at security and public safety at Toronto’s houses of worship.

“This is a great milestone, as all places of worship in Toronto need help through a comprehensive safety and security plan,” Colle told The CJN in an email. “It’s the first time any government has undertaken such an initiative. Now we need to work to get the provincial and federal governments to join in this task force.”

James Pasternak
Toronto Coun. James Pasternak

As for hate rallies, the city’s recommendations include the following:

  • the city manager will inform organizers of events that that take place on a regular basis but do not have a permit of the city’s policies towards hate speech and hate activities;
  • council directed city departments to develop a policy to refuse permits for events “advocating hatred or violence against any faith, race or sexual orientation on city property”;
  • the manager of the parks, forestry and recreation department was directed to monitor rallies in city parks and work with police to enforce bylaw contraventions, including charging event organizers for operating without a permit;
  • the city manager was requested to issue trespass warnings to those engaged in hate activities at rallies on municipal lands;
  • council requested that police again review last year’s Al-Quds Day rally to determine whether a hate crime was committed; and
  • the Toronto Police Services Board was asked to request that police dedicate more effort to reporting hate speech, music, expressive clothing, placards, pamphlets “and other forms of hate dissemination at public events.”

Dimitry Lascaris, a lawyer who represents organizers of the Al-Quds rally, said that if the city attempts to infringe his clients’ “constitutional rights,” they are “fully prepared to mount a constitutional challenge.”

Rally organizers “categorically reject” the allegation that the Al-Quds event is “hate-infested,” Lascaris added.

He said this year’s rally will include Jewish speakers who “look forward to speaking in defence of international law and the human rights of Palestinians.”