Shree Paradkar: How anti-racism town hall gave hate-mongers an outsized place at the table

Basic civility necessary condition for discussion and debate. Disruptive tactics, whether on the right or left, are hardly conducive to greater understanding. As someone who is looking for ways to include different perspectives on immigration and related issues, a reminder of the limits when basic civility is not present:

An anti-racism town hall in east Toronto last Friday that was hijacked by a bunch of bigots is a prime example of why the “listen to both sides” argument or the urging to “be reasonable” don’t work.

Activists say they warned the provincial Liberals who organized the town hall at Grant African Methodist Episcopal Church on Gerrard St. E. at Woodbine Ave. that it was going to be derailed; their social media chatter showed white supremacists were planning to gate crash the event.

On the panel were Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism Michael Coteau, Beaches—East York MPP Arthur Potts and Beaches—East York MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith. But it was the presence on the panel of Mississauga—Erin Mills MP Iqra Khalid who introduced the anti-Islamophobia M-103 motion that was the lightning rod for the likes of Paul Fromm, Lynn Redden, Eric Brazau and Meir Weinstein.

These are representative of a group of people blessed with extraordinary penetrating vision that allows them to see someone you and I might take for a bright woman with achiever’s confidence as the ultimate evil infiltrator of political Canada, bent on blanketing the country under Sharia law.

An anti-racism activist who was at the event, who tracks far-right hate groups on social media, says these people have appeared on his radar in at least seven demonstrations in Toronto in the past 12 months (not counting their protests outside Masjid Toronto near City Hall.)

He asked for anonymity for fear of being targeted by these groups that include the Canadian Association for Free Expression, Council of Conservative Citizens, the Jewish Defense League, the Europe-based PEGIDA, the Proud Boys and the Suffragettes against Silence.

Group memberships are fluid, he says. Fromm, for instance, leads the Canadian Association for Free Expression and also serves as a director on the Council of Conservative Citizens.

“It’s important to inform readers that these people are just as fanatical as the so-called radical Muslims they claim to hate,” the activist who is with Solidarity Against Fascism Everywhere (SAFE) told me.

Based on video footage and accounts of attendees, it was clear their presence not only coarsened the discussion, it gutted it.

The organizers announced the rules. Anyone with questions was to raise their hand and write their question down on a card given by a volunteer.

But the gate crashers began shouting out their questions.

Khalid made her opening remarks explaining the basis of M-103, and said, “It is OK to be white, it’s OK to be black, it’s OK to be yellow or to be any colour… because that is the Canada that I call my home, that is the Canada that we collectively built.”

But soon enough someone hollered, “It’s a back door to Sharia law. That’s what you’re trying to bring into the country.”

Redden, representing Suffragettes Against Silence, shouted: “Women have been voting for 100 years in this country,” neatly omitting the fact it was only white women who won that right. Not Indigenous women. Not Asian women.

At another point she yelled, “One thing you didn’t cover sister, is about women. What about the culture where you come from?”

Then, quite idiotically, “Do you think those women protesting in Iran are Islamophobic? You’re damn right they are.” As if those women are protesting their religion and not government coercion.

Despite entreaties to act like adults, a disturber known only as Lawrence, who activists say is a regular at racist demonstrations in Toronto shouted, “You are a fraud. You are a fraud.”

A little later, someone at the back is heard on video saying, “Is the purpose of M-103 to promote racism against Jews?” It didn’t matter that Khalid earlier had said hate crimes against Jewish people were unacceptable.

And when she said, “The Muslim community. It is so pluralistic, it’s so diverse,” the rest of what she was saying was drowned out by loud jeers.

The town hall that was held to discuss how the community could take a stand against “hate, intolerance and discrimination” in all its forms, accommodated all of it. The trolls were a minority, but they had an outsized seat at the table where their views should have been marginalized. Police cruisers were outside, but they were not asked to lead anyone out.

Although the loudmouths who came with nothing constructive were allowed to break the established rules to present their questions, although they were given special treatment, it was not enough.

It did not matter that Khalid was speaking in the calmest of tones, and Coteau was striking a placatory tone.

The hate-mongers continued to shout and interrupt and disrupt, leaving people who come to these events to feel whole further broken.

“To see such hate so close was jarring, upsetting and certainly made my blood boil. I can’t imagine experiencing such hate as a minority,” wrote organizer Erskine-Smith in a Facebook post after.

Yet, these minorities are always expected to faultlessly greet hate with grace, whether the racism is overt, passive-aggressive or delivered in dog-whistle words.

That calmness does nothing to disrupt racism.

Tone matters to those who seek to preserve their own comfort, to perhaps feel sorry for those they think are oppressed, to mentally pat themselves on the back for that charitable thought and move on.

Racism as feel-good balm. That’s what people seek when they ask for restraint.

Source: Shree Paradkar: How anti-racism town hall gave hate-mongers an outsized place at the table

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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