In recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, hundreds of people showed up at the Unite Against Racism rally at Nathan Phillips Square on March 21 to demand migrant justice, fight xenophobia and Islamophobia, and commemorate the 50 Muslims who were victims of a recent terrorist shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The event was organized by the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change and the Migrant Rights Network. Activists demanded a “$15 minimum wage” and “full labour rights”; “universal access to public services including healthcare, education, income security, childcare, pensions, and more”; “permanent resident status and family unity for all migrants and refugees”; “Indigenous self-determination, gender justice, and an end to discrimination”; and finally, an “end to practices of displacement and persecution that force [migrants] to move.”
The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination marks the 59th anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa, during which police shot and killed almost 70 peaceful anti-apartheid protesters.
The Toronto event was a “participatory community space,” rather than a protest: along with speeches and performances on the main stage, various anti-racism and migrant justice groups hosted activities in the square, including singing, painting, and selfie stations.
Many justice groups came to the event, including the Workers’ Action Centre for fair employment and Uyghur community representatives. The Uyghurs are a Muslim minority in China who are facing persecution from the Chinese government.
There was also an Indigenous medicine wheel, with shoes around it to represent the struggles of migrants, as well as a memorial for the victims of the Christchurch mosque shooting, where people could make a pledge toward anti-racism.
Organizer Syed Hussan explained the reasons for the rally, touching on the divisiveness that is encouraged by “right-wing populist authoritarians,” and why it’s important to be united against racism.
Hussan believes that it is politicians and corporations who demonize migrants and refugees, while the wealthy fill their own pockets.
“We know who is stealing jobs, we know that CEO salaries have gone up 200 per cent over the last few years while the rest of our wages are stagnating and dropping,” Hussan said.
“That is why we are here today: for each of us to meet people, to connect, to build solidarity, to educate ourselves — because that’s what it will take. We will need to know how to have each other’s backs as the situation gets worse and worse and worse.”
“We need to turn out for each other and that’s why we’re here.”
There were several speakers at the event who discussed Islamophobia and migrant worker rights.
Terri Monture, from the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) Wolf Clan from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in southern Ontario, urged everyone to fight racism and to show solidarity with each other.
“No one is illegal on stolen land,” Monture said. “Fight racism. Fight Islamophobia. Fight anti-Indigenousism. Fight against people who are saying trans rights don’t matter.”
Audrey Huntley, of mixed settler and Anishnaabe ancestry, and co-founder of the No More Silence activist group, teared up on stage while talking about Canada’s “ongoing genocide” of Indigenous people.
“White supremacy is at the root of this violence,” Huntley said. “We really have to be uniting together to fight this. We cannot afford to silence ourselves.”
Azeezah Kanji, a legal academic and writer, explained how actions in our everyday lives and by the state enable white supremacy, referring both to the Islamophobia that spurred the mosque attacks and systemic racism in general.
“If we all come from the same place, and if we are all going to the same place, then all of these bullshit hierarchies we come up with to justify systems of oppression, domination, and exploitation are created by humans,” Kanji said.
Other speakers at the event also included Kara Manso, a former live-in care worker and current coordinator at the Caregivers Action Centre, and immigration rights activists Olukunle and Kimora Adetunji.
Controversial white nationalist and former Toronto mayoral candidate Faith Goldy also showed up alongside a group of protesters with banners saying, “It’s Okay To Be White.” Their presence later led to agitated brawls. Toronto Police were on the scene and at least one person was arrested, although no charges were laid.