A rally against antisemitism in Toronto was focused on women describing the assaults and threats directed at them

A rally organized by Canadian Women Against Antisemitism, Queen's Park, Toronto, March 24, 2024

Thousands of people waving pink signs with a dove of peace on them turned out to a rally at Queen’s Park, where Jewish and non-Jewish women spoke about the antisemitism, assaults and threats they had witnessed and endured since Oct. 7.

The March 24 event was the first organized by a new advocacy group Canadian Women Against Antisemitism. Over 3,000 people registered in advance for the event—the location was disclosed only to those who registered as a security precaution, Revi Mula, one of the founders of the group, said in an interview with The CJN.

The group was started days after Oct. 7, first on Facebook as a place for Jewish women to share about the antisemitism they were seeing.

“Men are doing their own thing, there is a lot of men-led stuff and as mothers, sisters, I feel like we have a different energy and a different voice and our voice isn’t often heard,” Mula said explaining why the group felt a women’s rally was needed.

“We really wanted women’s voices heard, especially with all of the atrocities in Israel and women not being believed and no one standing up for all those women who were brutally sexually assaulted.”

The rally, held on Purim, came at the end of an especially difficult week for Canadian Jews, Deborah Lyons, Canada’s special envoy for combatting antisemitism told the crowd.

Deborah Lyons, special envoy on combatting antisemitism, speaking at a rally organized by Canadian Women Against Antisemitism, Queen’s Park, March 24, 2024.

 In just one week, a movie theatre in Hamilton, Ont. backed out of hosting a Jewish film festival, the Quebec newspaper La Presse published “a vile, antisemitic cartoon,” and it was revealed that a Toronto city councillor received anti-Jewish death threats, Lyons said.

“And even closer to home, while attending a vote in the House of Commons, my own chief of staff, along with a few other women, were harassed on Parliament Hill by people chanting ‘All Zionists are racists,’” Lyons said, as the crowd shouted ‘shame.’

“The loneliness and abandonment felt by the Jewish community across Canada and the paralysis to act by so many of the leaders at every level across the country is frightening and disheartening and worries me for other crises that we will face in the future,” she said.

“I know it’s hard, I know it’s exhausting and I know it’s painful and even sometimes it feels a little dangerous… but this is our moment. This is our Esther and Mordechai moment, this is our moment to use the power of our voices,” she said.

Olga Lefel Goldberg, one of the founding members of the group, said she was motivated to join CWAA after she was assaulted on Oct. 29 just steps from Queen’s Park. She was leaving another rally holding a poster of an Israeli hostage and a Canadian flag, when the flag and poster were ripped from her hands and she was punched.

“I, a 56-year-old round little mom was punched in the face. Canada failed to protect me. Canada is failing to protect you,” she told the crowd.

University students also spoke about the threats they had received while attending Ontario schools.

“I have been physically assaulted, verbally assaulted, hit with objects and by people’s fists. I’ve received death threats, threats of sexual assault and threats to my family,” said Laura Barkel, a student at Toronto Metropolitan University. “I’ve had photos of me edited with blood and knives to my chest.”

After a recent trip to Israel, however, she said she has become more involved in Jewish advocacy groups on her campus. “I’ve seen and experienced a lot of hate, but I’ve experienced much more outpouring of love and support that fuels and powers me to stand my ground.”

Samantha Kline, a student at OCAD, said she is completing her semester online after she was repeatedly harassed while on campus. Messages painted in a university building stairwell singled her out by name and threatened her with death.  

 “It’s become painfully clear that the zero-tolerance for hate on campus applies to everyone except Jews,” she said. “My case is one of only many.”

Serena Lee-Segal, an occupational therapist in Toronto spoke about her family’s decision to immigrate to Canada from China and the challenges she has encountered as a Jewish woman of colour.

“Even with the rise of anti-Asian hate in the midst of COVID and as a front-line health care worker in the pandemic, I was never targeted with hate. But it was only in my later life, when people found out I was Jewish that I have been the recipient of hate,” she said.

“I dropped to the floor at work when my children had to evacuate their preschool on a cold wintry day due to a bomb threat, for nothing other than being Jewish. I was disgusted beyond belief when I saw my union OPSEU marching at… rallies, yelling for the genocide of my community and another intifada.”

While the rally was being held at Queen’s Park, a pro-Palestinian march—which was promoted with a “family-friendly” Purim theme, encouraging attendees to bring noisemakers—started at Yonge Street and St. Clair Avenue before concluding in front of the Israeli consulate’s building at 2 Bloor St. E., about a 30-minute walk south.

Police arrested two men at the rally, both of whom were alleged to have been carrying knives.

Sodapop Liptrott, 25, of Toronto was charged with carrying a concealed weapon. Stephen Swail, 30, of Toronto was charged with assault, carrying a concealed weapon and possession of a weapon. Swail allegedly yelled hate-motivated slurs and pushed one of the protesters. He was found to have a knife in his possession when he was arrested, a news release from Toronto Police stated.