Hundreds of people, some sporting Make America Great Again hats and others wearing Infowars T-shirts, filled a Toronto Christian college on Wednesday in opposition to a motion before the Canadian parliament that would officially condemn Islamophobia.
The event was organized by right-wing media outlet the Rebel and included four Conservative leadership candidates, all of whom denounce the motion as a threat to free speech.
As each speaker took the stage, the crowd often stood, roared at the sound of right-wing buzzwords, and screamed out “shame” at mentions of Liberal politicians.
“Good evening, patriots!” said Rebel host Faith Goldy, following the singing of the national anthem.
“Canada is the land of milk and honey, it really is, we’ve got everything going for us,” Goldy told the audience. “I will not stand idly by as blasphemy motions are brought into our country. That is not Canada,” she said as the crowd rose for a standing ovation.
“We stand up, we stand up!” they chanted. One man held up a sign that read “They will never take our freedom,” featuring a photo of Mel Gibson in Braveheart. “Ban Islam!” someone yelled from the audience during a speech.
The motion, proposed last fall by Liberal Member of Parliament Iqra Khalid, has taken on new urgency in the wake of the terrorist attack on a mosque in Quebec city that killed six, and as hate crimes against Muslims across the country are on the rise.
It calls on the government to recognize the need to “quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear” and “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”
While it’s has been widely supported by the Liberal government and the NDP, Conservatives have been divided into two camps, with some backing the move and others arguing that it hinders free speech and singles out one religion for special protections.
The non-binding motion also asks the government to study how they can reduce or eliminate systemic racism and religious discrimination, collect data to contextualize hate crimes, and conduct needs assessments for communities that are affected by it.
Security was heavy at Wednesday’s rally and every bag was searched at the event, which had to be relocated after the previous venue pulled out because of threatening calls from objectors, according to Rebel founder Ezra Levant.
References to George Orwell’s 1984 punctuated the evening, along with calls for a revolution. The room erupted with cries of support every time an association was made between Muslims and Islamic terrorism.
At one point, a VICE News reporter saw a man raise his arm in what appeared to be a Nazi salute, something Levant vehemently denied on Twitter. He said the man, whom he described as a “Chinese guy in a kilt”, was making a salute made by the protagonist of the Hunger Games. Various photos later emerged of a man making a salute.
Goldy said the Islamophobia motion embodied “a clash of civilizations,” before a roster of Conservative politicians including Kellie Leitch, Brad Trost, Chris Alexander, and Pierre Lemieux took to the stage.
“Chronic political correctness is strangling free speech in Canada,” lamented Lemieux, who criticized the motion not only for failing to define Islamophobia, but also for singling out one faith for special protections.
“Protection from discrimination has now come to mean protection from being offended,” he said.
Leitch, who has been campaigning on the promise to screen immigrants for Canadian values, received a standing ovation, and praised those in the room for fighting “back against this politically correct nonsense.”
“It’s great to be in a room full of severely normal people tonight,” she said. “Canadian values are not fringe, and together, I know, we are going to fight for them.”
Former immigration minister Chris Alexander said he had “a lot of trouble with a motion that talks about hatred this, phobia that and doesn’t mention the number one threat in the world today which is Islamic jihadist terrorism.”
Charles McVety, president of the Canada Christian College, called the motion a “thinly veiled attempt to pass an anti-blasphemy law.”
“This nonsense that Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with Islam is something that I can’t digest… according to Jesus Christ, we have to love Muslims, but we don’t have to love Islam,” said McVety to cheers and applause. “I have a daughter and I don’t want to see her covered in a burka. I love freedom, and I don’t love shariah governance.”
Meanwhile, in Ottawa, Khalid, who was leading the debate on the motion, refused to withdraw the word Islamophobia from the text, saying the word’s common definition is “the irrational hate of Muslims that leads to discrimination,” the CBC reported.
“I will not do so, any more than I would speak to the Holocaust and not mention that the overwhelming majority of victims were six million followers of the Jewish faith and that anti-Semitism was the root cause of the Holocaust,” she said. “We cannot address a problem if we fail to call it by its true name.”
Aside from the opposition to political correctness, a common theme throughout the Wednesday rally was a disdain for mainstream media.
Levant approached VICE employees at the start of the event to ask if they had come as journalists or activists. Upon learning that each member of the team had come to cover the story, and one person was there as an observer, Levant expressed his support of a free press but warned that the group would be asked to leave if there was any disruption.
Later in the evening, Levant singled out VICE and Postmedia and accused them of not reporting on the story of Antonio Padula, a man who was charged with hate speech, although it was later revealed his marks may have been sarcastic. Both organizations did cover the story.
Each time Levant called out VICE, many in the audience booed and screamed out “fake news.”