A rally held in support of the ‘Halifax Five’ from the ‘Proud Boys’, was met with counter-protestors outside Queen’s Park earlier this afternoon.
The rally, organized by U of T-based activist group Students in Support of Free Speech (SSFS), was organized out of support for five military members who disrupted an Indigenous ceremony on Canada Day in Halifax and have since become the subject of national media scrutiny.
SSFS is a club on campus with ULife recognition that was founded after a rally in October 2016 in support of free speech and U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson.
Around 2:00 pm, a group of approximately 35 protestors gathered around the 48th Highlanders of Canada Regimental Memorial on the north side of Queen’s Park where they vocalized their support for the military members through a series of speeches and chants.
SSFS President Mari Jang gave a speech decrying Canadian media outlets like the CBC for what she claimed to be “misinformation and blatant lies against the Halifax Five.”
SSFS member and rally organizer Simon Capobianco, a fourth year U of T student, similarly criticized the media coverage of the five military members and defended their right to free assembly.
“If you read the articles, if you read the headlines, you get a certain picture of what happened in Halifax,” said Capobianco. “And this completely diverts from reality; this is what is known as a propaganda campaign…it’s one thing for the media to have leftist opinions…but what they’re doing is forcing their leftist opinions into their news reporting and they’re deliberately deceiving the Canadian public.”
Far-right white nationalist Paul Fromm, who has links to neo-Nazi and white supremacist organizations, was also one of the attendees.
— Greg Renouf 🇬🇧 (@grenouf) July 15, 2017
Around 2:40 pm, a group of approximately 20 counter-protestors showed up carrying signs displaying their support for Indigenous people in Canada.
According to Rebecca Rose, a freelance writer and Toronto-based activist that arrived at Queen’s Park with the counter-protestors, the aim of the counter-protests were to demonstrate solidarity with the Mi’kmaq community in Nova Scotia, as well as Indigenous people across Canada.
“We’re mostly here to…show Mi’kmaq folks specifically that wherever this type of hate — this type of denial of colonialism and colonization and cultural genocide — shows up, we’ll have their backs,” Rose told The Varsity.
A group of counter-protestors carrying a large sign reading “Toronto Against Fascists” also showed up to the rally, where they stood face-to-face with SSFS members and supporters of the military members. The counter-protestors chanted “Nazi scum, get off our streets,” while the protestors chanted “’Commie’ scum, get off our streets” in response.
Between the two groups of protestors was a line of Toronto police.
“The major purpose was one to defend the Constitutional rights of the Halifax five,” Capobianco told The Varsity, in regards to the rally itself. “One of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed in the charter is the right to freedom of assembly, and…[the military members] were in a public space, they were assembling peacefully.”
While both groups exercised their free speech through protest, both groups argued that their free speech was being suppressed.
“As a matter of whether or not this is suppressing particular types of speech or from a particular political point of view, they’re absolutely responding to flack from the left, and they absolutely are suppressing [speech],” said Capobianco.
“We had some indigenous folks come out…to support, but didn’t feel safe. And that speaks to the whole issue,” said Rose. “[the protesters] made it unsafe for indigenous people to be here, and they squashed their freedom of speech and expression.”
The protest occurred the same day that a protest in Halifax was held to remove a statue of former Nova Scotia governor Edward Cornwallis from a park in Halifax — the same statue where the military members disrupted the Mi’kmaq ceremony.