Canada's most prominent white supremacist was among those who spoke at the rally and urged support for the "Halifax Five," who disrupted an Indigenous ceremony on Canada Day.
A rally in support of the five Proud Boys who disrupted an Indigenous ceremony in Halifax on Canada Day was interrupted by anti-racist and anti-fascist demonstrators at Queen’s Park on Saturday. The rally was hosted by Students in Support of Free Speech, a University of Toronto campus group.
About 60 people showed up to the rally at the north end of the park, including Proud Boys, the III%ers, members of the Jewish Defence League, and Canada’s most prominent white supremacist—Paul Fromm. They were met by 25 or so anti-fascist demonstrators who arrived in two different groups. One of the groups included former Haligonians, who were holding signs like “SOLIDARITY with Mi’kmaq & Indigenous activists.”
Police stood between the Proud Boys and anti-fascist groups, who shouted at each other.
“Why don’t you leave the country,” one woman yelled at the anti-fascist activists. “Give up your clothing, give up your transportation . . . give up everything the white man has done.”
Speakers railed against the media coverage of the incident in Halifax, which they characterized as propaganda, misinformation, and lies. They say that the video of the incident shows that the Proud Boys were polite and take issue with the media saying the “Halifax Five” disrupted the ceremony.
On Canada Day, a group of five Proud Boys carrying a Canadian Red Ensign flag disrupted an Indigenous mourning ceremony held at the statue of Governor Cornwallis in Halifax. They argued with demonstrators, saying that Halifax is no longer Mi’kmaq land and that the Indigenous demonstration was disrespectful to Canada. The “Halifax Five,” who were all members of the Canadian Armed Forces, may be expelled from the military for their actions.
The Proud Boys, who take their name from an Aladdin song, “Proud of Your Boy.” They are a men’s-only club founded by Gavin McInnes. Real Proud Boys are only allowed to masturbate once a month, unless they are within a yard of a consenting woman. They operate in a realm of satire and plausible deniability. They want to offend you, but if you think they meant that racist statement, you obviously don’t have a sense of humour.
The Proud Boys are self-proclaimed “Western Chauvinists” who believe that the West is the best. Here in Toronto, the Proud Boys are part of the anti-Islam/anti-Muslim movement—as are the III%ers and the JDL. While they have been characterized as a white supremacist organization by some, they say they aren’t racist and that white supremacists aren’t welcome in their organization. They complain that they are misrepresented by media.
Torontoist was unable to reach any members of the Toronto Proud Boys for comment in time for publication.
It appears that the Canadian Proud Boys are taking up the Red Ensign as one of their symbols. Indeed, several of the flags made an appearance at the Queen’s Park rally.
The Red Ensign was used as Canada’s flag until 1965, when it was replaced by the maple leaf. The Red Ensign is a favourite symbol of Paul Fromm and Canada’s white supremacist and neo-Nazi movements.
“The Red Ensign beautifully symbolized the Canada of its European founder/settler people . . . the symbols of French, English, Irish, and Scots,” Fromm writes in a 2015 Facebook post. “The sinister Pearson was about to fling open our doors to the Third World . . . Canada was to be transformed by stealth into a Third World multicultural hodge podge. It wouldn’t do to have a flag that showed that we were founded, settled, and built by people of European origin.”
Paul Fromm is a well-known white supremacist who supported the Heritage Front—a violent neo-Nazi group—in the late 80s and early 90s. He still maintains ties to white supremacy groups and spoke at a neo-Nazi gathering at a Toronto Public Library last week. He runs the Canadian Association for Free Expression—an organization that fights for the “free speech rights” of white supremacists, including the neo-Nazi newspaper, Your Ward News.
Fromm went to the rally at Queen’s Park and addressed the crowd through a megaphone.
“The Canadian Association for Free Expression is very supportive of the things you’re doing,” Fromm said. “It is really important that you back the Halifax Five.”
SSFS President Mari Jang was surprised to hear that Fromm spoke at the event. She says that she knows he was a white supremacist and wouldn’t have let him use the megaphone—but that she left early and not everyone could recognize Fromm. She characterizes what happened as a mistake.
Students in Support of Free Speech rallied in support of Jordan Peterson, the professor who fought against the use of preferred pronouns and Bill C-16. They have also held events relating to M-103, the anti-Islamophobia motion and a panel on “campus censorship.” Even though the rhetoric echoes the positions of the alt-right, SSFS rejects that label.
“SSFS is not in any way associated with the alt-right,” says Jang. “There may be alt-righters who also value free speech, but we do not identify with that particular group, or have any specific political bias.”
The organization believes in absolute free speech. It believes that unrestricted debate is the way to counter hateful ideas and that tactics like “no-platforming“ (e.g., loudly protesting speakers or physically preventing an event) are anti-free speech. This is one position in the free speech debate. Another position is that non-violent, no-platforming is a competing form of Charter-protected freedom of expression being used to prevent hate speech and discrimination, which are not being countered in practice by debate in the marketplace of ideas.
Jang tells Torontoist that her group isn’t associated with the Proud Boys, and the rally was about supporting military men who were exercising their right to free speech.
In Halifax, the Proud Boys disrupted an Indigenous mourning ceremony intended to draw attention to the murder and attempted extermination of the Mi’kmaq people as well as the legacy of colonialism on unceded Mi’kma territory. In 1749, Cornwallis issued a bounty on the scalps of Mi’kmaq men, women, and children. Indigenous leaders and activists have long called for the removal of his statue from Cornwallis Park in downtown Halifax.
Only hours before the rally at Queen’s Park, protesters in Halifax watched as a crane placed a veil over the Cornwallis statue. This is a temporary solution, according to Halifax Mayor Mike Savage, who says a committee will make recommendations on the future of the all municipal assets named after Cornwallis. Meanwhile, Indigenous activists have vowed to fight to have the statue taken down.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Halifax Mayor Mike Savage has already agreed to have the Cornwallis statue removed. Torontoist regrets the error.
Evan Balgord is a freelance journalist covering the anti-Muslim, alt-right and alt-light movements in Canada and Toronto. You can follow his work on Twitter at @ebalgord.