Disappointment and frustration have greeted a City of Toronto announcement that a study on how it should handle hate rallies held on its property, including the annual Al-Quds Day protest, will be delayed until next year.
The matter was referred to the city manager’s office in November and a report on whether such gatherings can be prevented was due on June 19. But officials said they need more time to consult with stakeholders.
“Given the large number of stakeholders and the complexity of the issues involved, a report back within the proposed time frame is not possible,” read a June 5 status update from Giuliana Carbone, the interim city manager, to the city’s executive committee.
A “wide range” of experts need to be consulted, the memo added, including legal scholars, the police, the city’s own lawyers and its manager, Ontario’s attorney general and “various human rights groups.”
The executive committee asked for the report by the end of the first quarter of 2019.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said he was “a bit disappointed” that city officials hadn’t made more progress on the “very complex issues,” where “free speech intersects with hate speech,” the Toronto Sun reported.
Councillor James Pasternak, who has spearheaded the campaign against the Al-Quds Day rally, told The CJN that he is “profoundly frustrated” by the study’s delay.
He called Toronto’s annual Al-Quds gathering “hateful,” “illegal” and “an enormous embarrassment” to the city, adding that participants avoid paying “tens of thousands” of dollars that are incurred for police services, street closures, transit disruptions and waste cleanup.
Last September, Pasternak formally requested a strategy for dealing with extremist rallies that are held on city property. Among his ideas was to hit rally organizers with costs.
The Al-Quds rally used to take place on the grounds of the provincial legislature, but in 2015, Queen’s Park denied organizers a permit, formally citing the PanAm and Parapan Games as the reason.
Last year, the rally moved to a municipal park just north of the legislature, despite a bylaw that prohibits protests and demonstrations in city parks. Marchers then traversed Queen’s Park, en route to the U.S. Consulate on University Avenue.
Speakers at past Al-Quds Day rallies in Toronto have referred to Israel as “a cancer,” glorified terrorism and called for Israelis to be shot. Last year’s rally featured an American Holocaust denier and police are still probing a music video from that year that allegedly called for Israelis to be stabbed, decapitated and run over with vehicles.
Following this year’s protest on June 9, B’nai Brith Canada filed a hate crimes complaint with police, alleging that a Muslim cleric from Kitchener, Ont., said that Israelis should be “eradicated.”
All rallies have featured people flying the flag of Hezbollah, which Canada considers a banned terrorist group.
“Make no mistake, this is a hate rally,” B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn told the executive committee in a deputation on June 19.
A frustrated Mostyn said it “doesn’t appear anything was done” on the file “and this is highly, highly disappointing.”
Pasternak has noted that fearing escalation, police are reluctant to break up a rally once it’s underway.
Toronto Police Services spokesperson Mark Pugash seemed to echo that sentiment. The law gives police officers “a wide degree of discretion, but in large public events, our number 1 concern is public safety,” Pugash told The CJN.
Despite the study’s delay, the executive committee decided, based on motions moved by Pasternak, to ask police to confirm that a hate crimes investigation into this year’s rally is underway.
It also asked the attorney general to expedite a hate crime charge, if one is filed.
And on an approved motion from Tory, the committee requested that the city manager examine how to recoup costs from protests featuring “hate speech.”
Events like Al-Quds Day, which calls for the killing of an entire civilian population in Israel, are no longer part of the landscape in Ontario.
– Doug Ford
Aidan Fishman, the national director of B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights, said the fact the province could successfully block Al-Quds rallies on its grounds “casts serious doubt on the city’s claim that it cannot legally do the same for its own property.”
In the aftermath of this year’s protest, Ontario premier Doug Ford said his government will act to ensure that “events like Al-Quds Day, which calls for the killing of an entire civilian population in Israel, are no longer part of the landscape in Ontario.”