Rally at Queen’s Park encourages Torontonians to fight against far-right groups and condemn white supremacy.
At her first anti-fascist rally, demonstrator Eleni Vlahiotis grasped her sign and marched in the thick of the crowd through Queen’s Park on Thursday evening.
“I think it’s easy to sit down behind a computer and post a Facebook status or talk about events like this with your friends,” Vlahiotis said. “But if you’re not actually looking for avenues and ways to get involved and doing anti-fascist and social justice work, then you’re not really contributing to change.”
Around 60 people marched from Queen’s Park to Nathan Phillips Square waving signs with messages decrying fascism and white supremacy.
The rally—organized by a local group committed to countering islamophobia, white supremacy, and fascism called Solidarity Against Fascism Everywhere—invited Torontonians to oppose white supremacists and other far-right demonstrations in light of the events in Charlottesville.
“I think Canadians need to be more on the alert or ‘stand on guard for thee,’ as the national anthem says,” said Enāēmaehkiw Kesīqnaeh, an Indigenous advocate and speaker at the rally. “I don’t think Canadians should take it lying down. Canada is a multicultural country and there are people that want to undo that.”
The group is also helping to organize a larger demonstration called Unity Rally to End White Supremacy on September 14 at Queen’s Park.
The event was originally planned as a counter-protest to a nationalist anti-immigration rally scheduled on the same day at the University of Toronto. The university ultimately refused to grant the permit, citing concerns over safety.
While the far-right group continues its search for a new venue, the counter-protest is scheduled to go ahead as planned. Rally organizer and SAFE member Sarah Ali says that the rally is still necessary to express strong opposition to the views of white nationalist groups.
“They need to know that there is a significant majority of Torontonians that will not sit idly by while they do this sort of thing,” Ali said.
While there are some concerns around violence at demonstrations across Canada and the United States, Ali denounces aggression between anti-fascist and far-right groups, and says it’s a deterrent to organizing or attending rallies.
“In the face of that kind of violence, the only thing we can do is overwhelm them with a large number of people and show that our neighbours, our city, and our community won’t stand for it,” Ali said.
Rather than focus on potential violence from attendees or far-right groups, some demonstrators expressed concern with the heavy Toronto police presence at the rally; around 10 officers were present at the event. Vlahiotis pointed to instances of racial profiling and brutality from law enforcement.
“I’m white, so I was brought up to trust the police,” Vlahiotis said. “But then I think, wait, it’s not always a good thing for some people. Some people are severely uncomfortable by the presence of police officers and they’re more uncomfortable than if they weren’t present.”