Update: Countering Quds Day and other Hate Rallies in Toronto

We cannot be silent when extremists promote antisemitism and other forms of hate. Our community knows firsthand that vicious words can foreshadow dangerous actions. At the very least, taxpayer-funded facilities – such as the Ontario Legislature, City of Toronto parks, and Nathan Phillips Square – should never be used as a platform to glorify violence and demonize Jews and other minorities.

This annual event, launched by the Iranian regime, consists of global demonstrations to protest Israel’s existence. Speakers at the Toronto rally have described Israel as a “cancer” that must be “killed” and called Israelis “inhuman” and “barbarians. One speaker even issued a heinous call for the shooting of Israelis in Jerusalem.

For years, CIJA has been monitoring and capturing video footage of the Quds Day rally in downtown Toronto, in some cases filing criminal complaints about the hateful rhetoric that takes place there. Speakers of the Legislative Assembly have had flexibility in setting guidelines for demonstration permits, which has effectively blocked Quds Day from the steps of Queen’s Park since 2015.

This week, York Centre MPP Roman Baber introduced a bill to enshrine this principle in law. This legislation will ensure that, whatever guidelines are set by a future Speaker, she or he must prevent demonstrations from taking place at Queen’s Park that are likely to promote hatred against any identifiable group.

This is not simply an issue about vicious anti-Zionists. Hate activists in various forms are growing more brazen. The horrific mass murder of Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue and Muslims in two Christchurch mosques is a terrible reminder that white supremacist ideology can inspire brutal acts of violence. This bill sends a clear message to those who dehumanize minorities and glorify violence: You will never be welcome at Queen’s Park.

It is also vital to ensure that the City of Toronto’s policies allow, in rare and exceptional circumstances, the City to deny the use of municipal parks and squares as platforms for hate rallies.

Under the leadership of Mayor John Tory and Councillor James Pasternak, the Executive Committee of the City of Toronto tasked city staff to provide recommendations to address hate rallies on city property. Yesterday, a report was brought forward by staff that did not sufficiently address the depth of the problem of Al Quds Day rallies. CIJA offered a deputation that expressed our grave concerns with these problematic rallies and outlined a policy solution for elected officials and staff to consider.

Our message was clear: there is a need for a new policy to manage the use of city space. That policy should require groups to first obtain a permit. Groups that do not do so, or that violate the terms of the permit by promoting hate and glorifying violence, should be penalized with a substantial fine. The city must also have the ability to deny permits to those that have a proven record of promoting hate, discrimination and violence.

We are pleased that the committee unanimously decided that the recommendations of City staff were not sufficient, effectively sending the City back to the drawing board to come up with a robust solution to this problem. CIJA will continue to engage to ensure an effective and enforceable policy is put in place.

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