A Progressive Conservative member of Ontario’s provincial parliament wants hate rallies banned from Queen’s Park, even though one of his intended targets hasn’t gathered at the provincial legislature for years.
At the same time, the City of Toronto received a long-awaited report on how to handle hate rallies held on its property, but sent it back for more work.
On March 20, Roman Baber, MPP for York Centre, introduced a private member’s bill entitled the Prohibiting Hate-Promoting Demonstrations at Queen’s Park Act. It passed first reading, and second reading is scheduled for April 4.
The bill intends to “prohibit any demonstration, rally or other activity that, in the opinion of the Speaker, is likely to promote hatred against any identifiable group from being permitted on legislative precinct grounds.”
In a statement, Baber said freedom of speech “does not give anyone the right to promote hate or violence. Such acts compromise our identity as Canadians and should not be permitted to take place at Queen’s Park.”
Baber told The CJN that the governing Conservatives have “been clear from day one: there’s no place for hate in Ontario. That includes Queen’s Park. We have to send a message that anyone seeking to promote hate or violence in Ontario, regardless of their religion or beliefs, is not welcome at Queen’s Park.
He said the government is “not targeting any particular group” but that past Al-Quds Day rallies in Toronto spurred him to introduce the measure.
The Al-Quds rally used to take place on the lawn of the provincial legislature, but in 2015, Queen’s Park denied organizers a permit, citing the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games as the reason.
The rally moved to a park just north of the legislature called Queen’s Park North, which is municipal property. In the past, marchers have traversed the legislative grounds en route south to the U.S. Consulate on University Avenue.
Baber said the 2017 rally “clearly” took place at Queen’s Park “under (what is now) my window.”
Al-Quds Day was initiated by Iran in 1979 to express support for Palestinians and to oppose Zionism and Israel. Speakers at past rallies in Toronto have termed Israel as “a cancer,” glorified terrorism and called for Israelis to be shot. The 2017 rally hosted an American Holocaust denier. Participants have flown the flag of Hezbollah, which Canada lists as a terrorist group.
No sooner was he elected than Premier Doug Ford promised to abolish the annual rally, wherever it takes place.
“Our government will take action to ensure that events like Al-Quds Day, which calls for the killing of an entire civilian population in Israel, are no longer part of the landscape in Ontario,” then premier-designate Ford tweeted last June.
“Blatantly racist or anti-Semitic ideology should never be permitted on the grounds of the legislative assembly of Ontario, or anywhere else in our province,” he said.
Baber said the bill in its current form does not deal with enforcement. “It would be the Speaker of the house who would instruct the sergeant-at-arms to withhold permits.”
Any activity in a municipal park “is a separate question for the City of Toronto,” he added.
In 2017, Toronto councillor James Pasternak asked the city to develop a legal framework for dealing with hate rallies on its property.
The report was finally delivered to the executive committee on March 21, but after two hours of debate, it was sent back to staff because it was “somewhat lacking and disappointing,” Pasternak told The CJN.
Pasternak said organizers of these rallies have done “an end run” around the city by ignoring bylaws and anti-discrimination policies, and failing to pay costs for policing, road closures and cleanup.
“Not only are they espousing hatred and discrimination, but they’re ripping off the city,” he said.
The revised report is due in May.