By Brandi Awad
Hundreds of anti-fascist, left-wing protesters gathered on Parliament Hill on Sept. 30 to show their solidarity in response to another demonstration being held there by a far-right alliance called the Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens.
The CCCC headed to the Hill to protest the federal government’s anti-hate speech motion M-103 — passed in March in a 201-91 vote by MPs — and which “condemns Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”
The dozens of protesters for the CCCC said that the measures will put an end to free speech in Canada and represents a step toward the imposition of Sharia Law across the country — assertions strongly denounced by M-103 supporters.
Waiting for the right-wing demonstrators upon their arrival was a much larger group of counter-protesters.
This “anti-fascist rally” was organized by a local group called “Ottawa Against Fascism,” which describes itself as being an anti-racism, anti-fascism, anti-colonialism and anti-patriarchy group. They’ve accused the CCCC of spreading a dangerous and hateful message to Canadians.
OAF’s leader, who asked not to be identified for safety reasons, said that while the rally was being held in reaction to the CCCC’s protest, the message the left-wing group wanted to spread was one of unity.
“We like to think of this more as a solidarity act,” said the OAF leader. “We’re really about bringing communities together and coming up and saying, ‘No, this isn’t OK’. We’ve seen these types of sentiments in the past, we’ve seen them start to get worse and we want to do everything we can right now to keep it from escalating further.”
Flanked by fellow protesters carrying signs that read “MAKE THE RIGHT AFRAID AGAIN!”, “DROWN FASCISM IN A SEA OF RESISTANCE”, and “STUFF FASCISTS BACK DOWN THE SEWER”, the OAF leader said the group’s central message was that hate of any kind would not be tolerated in this city or across the country.
“I believe they need to be opposed at every opportunity where they show their faces,” said protester Barbara Leimsner, adding that she and her allies “need to continue to create a mass coalition of people” to oppose racist ideas, sexist ideas, Islamophobia and homophobia.
Dylan Penner, an organizer with Solidarity Ottawa — a member-run community organization that seeks to challenge systemic racism and capitalism — was in attendance with a message for the CCCC.
“Your hate will fail. Every time you try, our movement will be there and we will stop you,” he said. “We far outnumbered the racists who tried to spread their hate in Ottawa on Saturday. We plan to keep it that way.”
However, Guy Annable, a member of the opposing group of protesters, denied the accusations.
“We are not racist, we are not fascists – we are Canadian, we want to unite,” he said. “We are here to protest the policies of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government that are destroying the fabric of Canada. We are Canadian tax-paying citizens having a lawful protest to decry the Trudeau economic policies and they’re calling us racists and fascists.”
Alexandra Belaire, one of the only female protesters amongst the CCCC group, echoed Annable’s reaction.
“Yes, many of them think of us as very bad people – maybe even evil people, but they are very misguided in that,” she said. “Whether they realize it or not by showing up, they’re supporting our side in saying, ‘Yes we must have the freedom to express our difference in speech’.”
The two groups were separated by barricades and a line of police throughout the afternoon. However, there was one brief physical encounter after the two rallies met on the Parliament Hill lawn. No one was hurt in the altercation, as riot police and RCMP officers were quickly ushered out to restore order.