This article first appeared on VICE Canada
For the last few weeks, Liberal MP Iqra Khalid's motion, M-103 has been the source of a little bit of controversy, to put it extremely mildly. The motion, which aims to examine "systemic racism and religious discrimination," somehow has some people believing we're soon going to be living under a form of Islamic Shariah here in Canada (we're not). Backlash against the motion, which is to be voted on in April, has gotten so bad that Khalid has received thousands of hateful emails daily.
This weekend, there was yet another battle for Canada's freedom (or something) against the looming threat of this motion, which was described to me by an anti-M-103 protester as "a slippery slope" towards anti-blasphemy laws becoming the norm. A Facebook event described the protest as a rally for free speech against M-103,but of course—it's main focus was "anti-anti-Islamophobia" or, rather, "pro-Islamophobia."
This wasn't my first rodeo going to an anti-Islam gathering as a visible Muslim reporter. I had previously attended a rally organized by Rebel Media a few weeks ago so I knew what to expect. However, the difference between this particular protest and the Rebel rally was a significant counter protest, which, according to far right watchdog community Pegida Watch Canada included the support dozens of groups in Toronto alone. I had a feeling going in that the counter-protests would outnumber the actual protests significantly.
Upon entering Nathan Phillips Square outside Toronto City Hall, just beyond the skating rink and the colourful TORONTO sign, I noticed a couple of hundred people with signs—all counter-protesters. The event was heavily policed, and inside a small semicircle with police bicycles forming a barrier were about 50 anti-M-103 protesters.
I spent the bulk of the couple-hours-long protest inside the anti-anti-Islamophobia bubble, leaving only a few times to mingle amongst the counter-protesters, because the cops were getting increasingly strict with separating everyone. After leaving the semi-circle the first time, I had to beg and charm three different officers before I was let back in. Shrieking "I'm a journalist, I'm just observing! Here, take my business card!" did the trick.
Inside the anti M-103 crowd, I observed and listened to many conversations—including chatting with some people myself. Anti-Islam protesters aren't exactly known to be the most enlightened bunch and a part of me was hoping to hear some kind of reference to "Muslamic ray guns" at the very least.
Unfortunately, nobody asked me about ray-guns. Not unlike the Rebel Rally, few people seemed to know what they were talking about—and nobody cared either. Without further ado, here are some of the worst things overheard, said to me, or to my colleagues are the following:
1: People kept referring to M-103 as "a law" or "the bill" when it is not any of those things. A bill is a proposed law, whereas a motion is non-binding and not intended to impact the law in any way—if you didn't know it yet, M-103 is very much a motion, not a bill (stop being dumb.)
2: Verbatim, a middle aged woman who did not want to be named said M-103 concerns her because, "It's such a vague law that can be used to silence people." Her main concern was that it was the beginning of a slippery slope. What kind of slippery slope? If M-103 passes, "You might not be taken into regular court. Maybe you could be taken into a human rights court which doesn't have the same rules." In human rights court according to her, "People can get convicted and if they don't have money to defend themselves, then it becomes a precedent. Then slowly you lose your freedom to say what you think." She then let me know she was not against Muslim people. Sure, Jan.
3: When I asked the same woman whether or not she knew the motion wanted to look at, track, and contextualize not only Islamophobic hate crimes but others as well, her male companion jumped in and apparently didn't hear the rest of my sentence because his response was, "There's a fake word in there called 'Islamophobia.'" As spittle formed in the corners of his mouth, he then told me "I have the right to fear whatever I want. Absolute right to fear whatever I want. Nobody could tell me what I can say or do as long as it's not inciting people to do any hateful actions, period." I didn't get a chance to ask him whether or not he knew how Islamophobia worked, because it apparently doesn't exist.
4: A woman named Pat who was dressed in a sweater she may have bought off a DC street on inauguration day—along with a MAGA hat—told me and my colleague she thought a lot of hate crimes since Trump came into power were really promoted by people on the left. "They've been promoting it. Look at the DNC, true journalists at Project Veritas found out the DNC actually hired organizations to go into rallies and cause physical violence." (If anyone has been sent cheques please tell me who's been paying you, I'd love some extra cash) Later on, out of nowhere, she told us that her sister-in-law couldn't leave the house without a full burka or something bad would happen to her. We asked where her sister-in-law lived, she told us Casablanca. (In reality, Morocco recently banned the production and import of the burka.)
5: A man whose face was covered with a scarf came up to me and my colleague and started talking to her as if I wasn't actually there and kept referring to me only as "she." When he did have questions, or rather accusations, he would direct them towards me. "There are no jobs in Islamic countries," he told me, like I was in on some kind of international economic plot. When I said, "Yes, there are" (because there are) he ignored me. Then he returned to talking to my colleague as though I wasn't there until he made another statement he expected me to refute. At this point, I was looking at my phone and told him, "I wasn't listening, sorry." He laughed at me and told me colleague, "These people are good at lies." He then instructed her to read the Qur'an cover to cover, but to NOT ask me about it because I would just feed her lies.
6: Eric Brazeau (above), a man who was sentenced to nine months in jail for promoting hatred also attended the rally. A cop recognized him, because he was told he may be violating his parole. When asked by my colleague about Alexandre Bissonnette killing six Muslims at a mosque after prayer he said, "That's a red herring." According to Brazeau, "That mosque was aligned with the Muslim brotherhood so maybe Alexandre Bissonette thought he was doing the world a favour." He then said these rallies were important, even if they did make him feel uncomfortable. But you know who else wasn't comfortable, according to Brazeau? "The soldiers storming the beaches in Normandy. You gotta do what you gotta do."
The rally ended when the cops tried guiding protesters out of their protective circle. Beginning with escorting the Soldiers of Odin out of the area, they instructed other protesters to start leaving as well because they, "couldn't protect them anymore." Throughout my time there it was pretty clear that those opposing M-103 genuinely had no idea what a motion is, nor do they care to know. For them, it's a way to rally together against the real enemy—Muslims. While the crowd was much smaller than their opposition they were so passionate in their ignorance, I don't see these clashes ending any time soon.
Photos by Mack Lamoureux
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