Yes, it can happen here.
Hatewatch is a new column that will run bi-weekly, tracking the rise of hate groups and their activities in and around Toronto.
Make no mistake: anti-Muslim and “alt-right” groups are active in Toronto, recruiting in our universities and holding monthly rallies in Nathan Phillips Square. And it’s getting worse. Last Saturday, white supremacists were front and centre at the so-called anti-Trudeau rally—and they brought a neo-Nazi flag.
At the same time, Jewish and Muslim organizations are reporting a surge in hate incidents. Here in Toronto, there has been a rash of anti-Semitic graffiti. Posters saying, “Refugees are welcome here” alongside a photo of a woman in a hijab have been defaced, replaced, and then defaced again. Members of the Jewish and Muslim communities say they have been targeted, and I’ve been told stories from people in Toronto who have faced street harassment and racially motivated assaults.
On the first Saturday of (almost) every month, anti-Muslim groups have held rallies at Toronto City Hall to protest M-103 (a motion condemning Islamophobia), and the government’s immigration and refugee policies. Groups like the Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens, the Canadian Combat Coalition, and supporters of Sandra Solomon host and attend these events, flanked by more militant groups like the Jewish Defence League, the Soldiers of Odin, and the III%ers. They usually bring out between 150 and 300 people, and are almost always outnumbered by anti-racist and anti-fascist activists.
In Toronto, the anti-Muslim groups are supported by the “alt-right,” who have shown up in small numbers to many of these rallies. They like to troll anti-racist and anti-fascist activists, going across the police line and into the anti-fascist crowd in MAGA (Make America Great Again) hats and waving the Kekistani flag, one of the alt-right’s symbols. They are anti-Muslim, but they are also strongly anti-anti-fascist, anti-leftist, and anti-feminist. They call themselves white nationalists or European nationalists, and many are full-blown white supremacists and neo-Nazis. In the past, when they aren’t trolling, they stand at the back of the anti-Muslim crowd.
According to Alternative for Canada, an alt-right group trying to organize the movement in Toronto, some of their supporters have emerged from U of T professor Jordan Peterson’s community of supporters. Peterson is the University of Toronto professor who became a media sensation in the culture war when he refused to use preferred pronouns for trans and non-binary persons. He sparked a wave of demonstrations and brought the campus culture war—which has been a breeding ground for the alt-right in the United States—to Canada. Other members of Toronto’s white supremacist crew either came from, or infiltrated (depending on who you ask), the Proud Boys and the campus free speech/anti-political correctness movement.
Part of the Toronto crew of white supremacists, mostly white men in their mid-20s, also showed up at a rally in support of the Halifax 5 Proud Boys held by the Students Supporting Free Speech. Paul Fromm, Canada’s most famous neo-Nazi, spoke at the rally, which SSFS said was a mistake. After the rally, some of the white supremacists met with Fromm.
The last few months have been relatively quiet, with only a handful of events. The anti-Muslim and so-called patriot movements have been fighting amongst themselves, but now they’re trying to unite and get organized, and things are picking up again.
Evan Balgord is a freelance journalist and a researcher on right-wing extremist groups in Canada. Follow him on Twitter @ebalgord.