Recent anti-Muslim protests organized by a tightly knit circle of far-right groups test Toronto's reputation for inclusion
It would be wrong to pin the blame for the recent increase in anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant racism on one source. Recent demonstrations against Muslims, including a high profile protest outside of downtown’s Masjid Toronto not long after the Quebec City mosque shooting, are the handiwork of a tight circle of far-right organizations from Zionists and white nationalists to one Hindu advocacy group. Some have focused on intimidating Muslims in their places of worship, while others have protested the accommodation of Muslim prayer in public schools.
This ultra-Zionist organization was founded in 2014.
Its website, registered in 2015 from an account in Florida, and Twitter page consistently feature articles from far-right news sources in the U.S. (“creeping Sharia” writer Pamela Geller, Breitbart) and Canada (Rebel Media).
The group’s main objective, bluntly stated on its website and Facebook page – its main platform, boasting more than 171,000 likes – is to expose “Islamic terror proxies” and “those who hate the Jewish people.”
NAC members were among attendees at a protest outside Masjid Toronto mosque in February, which several members of the Jewish Defense League also attended, after JDL members appeared at a court hearing for Eric Brazau, a well-known anti-Islam activist convicted in 2014 and again in 2015 for wilful promotion of hatred and criminal harassment.
In the past year, the NAC Facebook page has featured several JDL events, including a lecture last December by noted U.S. “counter-jihad” blogger and Fox News talking head Robert Spencer on “The Threat Of The Syrian Refugee Trojan Horse.”
Perhaps the best-known far-right Zionist group in Canada, the JDL began in 1968 in New York City, when extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, who served in Israel’s parliament from 1984 to 88, decided that a more militant form of Zionism was needed to ensure the survival of the Jewish people. The FBI designated the JDL a “terrorist” and “extremist” group in 2001 following two plots to carry out acts of domestic terrorism. Meir Weinstein, who was inspired by Kahane’s book Never Again and has led the Canadian branch since the 1970s, has adopted similar violent rhetoric. Weinstein speaks often in videos on the group’s Facebook page about the need for “security patrols” in Toronto to combat “radical Islam.”
Just last week, a Canadian JDL member was arrested in connection with the beating of a Palestinian-American man outside an American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington, DC.
In February, Facebook took down the group’s web page on two occasions over its raised-fist logo and “content that expresses support for groups that are involved in violent or criminal behaviour.”
More serious allegations were made in 2011 when the RCMP reportedly investigated the group over an alleged plot to bomb Palestine House, a Palestinian community centre in Mississauga. Weinstein denied the claim on Sun News Network that year. More recently the group has been front and centre at the March 4 protest at City Hall against Liberal MP Iqra Khalid’s anti-Islamophobia motion, M-103, and Rebel Media’s “rally for free speech” at the Christian Bible College in February.
Another outfit central to Toronto protests against M-103, Rise Canada claims to “defend Canadian values” and combat “radical Islam.” Its logo features a red maple leaf rising out of a lotus flower, a bloom often associated with Hinduism. Members of the Rise Canada team recently marched in Mississauga with 150 or so Hindu activists to protest the Peel District School Board’s policy accommodating Muslim students who want to pray in schools. The group’s “senior adviser,” Ron Banerjee, a fixture at anti-gay and anti-Muslim protests around the GTA, made disparaging remarks about Muslims at a recent school board meeting on the issue.
But Rise Canada’s most ubiquitous figure is national spokesperson and Ontario regional leader Sandra Solomon, a Saudi-raised former Muslim who converted to Christianity. Her recent “speaking tour” on the perceived dangers of Islam in Canada was advertised heavily on the Facebook pages of NAC and several affiliated far-right groups.
Based in Montreal and founded by Georges Hallak, the CCCC’s presence is basically confined to its Facebook page, which features periodically posted videos by Hallak on a various issues, including the dangers of M-103. The group’s Facebook page has been the logistical and organizing platform for a series of anti-Muslim and anti-M103 protests in Toronto (and throughout the country) in recent months.
The group’s latest video posted March 12 makes the unsubstantiated claim that “the radicalized percentage of Islamic believers may in fact be as high as 300 million” people.
This is a branch of Germany-based PEGIDA, or “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West,” founded in October 2014. The group says its aim is to stop the “increasing Islamization of Western culture.”
With over 25,000 Facebook likes, Pegida Canada has been the organizing platform for many anti-Islam activists in Toronto, promoting several anti-Islam rallies since its founding here in 2015. The group’s first protest at Queen’s Park in September 2015 drew more than 100 counter-protesters. It’s held a series of similar rallies since then but doesn’t post info about locations to avoid counter-protests.
In Europe, the movement has united many elements of the far right, including neo-Nazis. The Canadian group’s Facebook page routinely features posts expressing support for the European right, including noted right-wingers like Geert Wilders of the Netherlands’ Party for Freedom and France’s Marine Le Pen.
This is also an offshoot of a European group that was founded two years ago in northern Finland to conduct street patrols. Its stated objective is to fight crime, but it clearly expresses the anti-immigrant sentiment that followed the recent arrival of thousands of asylum seekers in Finland.
SOO Canada claims in its bylaws to be a “non-racist,” conservative “nationwide community-watch organization.” It also states that Canada’s “higher authorities” have failed to maintain the integrity of Canadian values by accepting so many immigrants and refugees while allowing “European culture” to be demonized.
SOO Canada’s national president, Joel Angott, insists the group doesn’t condone discrimination or violence. But a report by the New York-based Anti-Defamation League published last year stresses the European parent group’s extensive ties to white nationalist groups and designates it a “hate group.”
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Updated Wednesday, May 24, 2017. An earlier version of this article misstated Never Again Canada’s involvement in a February protest at Masjid Toronto mosque. The group was not involved in organizing the protest nor did it claim responsibility for organizing the event.