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Anti-fascist group's counter-protest outnumbers original rally

'When you show up, we show up'

Duelling protests
Photos by: Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press, Christopher Katsarov (Toronto) & Graham Hughes (Montreal) / The Canadian Press
Fascist Free Treaty 1 (FF1) supporters outnumbered the Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens at Winnipeg's City Hall. - RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
During the rally in Winnipeg, a man held up a poster with a controversial verse on it which led to a heated debate. - RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
The poster with the controversial verse on it was pulled from the man's hands and ripped up, with the pieces being thrown amongst the crowd in Winnipeg. - RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Signs of peace at Winnipeg's rally. - RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Part of the group of protesters at Winnipeg's City Hall held a banner reading "Drown Fascism in a Sea of Resistance". The members wore black hoods and red face masks. - RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
A member of the anti-fascist activist group Fascist Free Treaty 1 (FF1) waves a flag at the rally at Winnipeg's City Hall, with more supporters behind him. - RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
A sign at the rally in Winnipeg. - RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
People hold signs encouraging unity at the rally at Winnipeg's City Hall Saturday. - RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
People hold signs of support for Muslims and against Islomophbia in Winnipeg. - RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Protesters with opposing views argue at Toronto City Hall. - CHRISTOPHER KATSAROV / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Protesters gather during a demonstration regarding motion M-103 at Toronto City Hall on Saturday. - CHRISTOPHER KATSAROV / THE CANADIAN PRESS
A woman wears a "Make America Great Again" hat during a demonstration regarding motion M-103 inToronto. - CHRISTOPHER KATSAROV / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Rogue Benjamin holds an anti-hate sign in Toronto. - CHRISTOPHER KATSAROV / THE CANADIAN PRESS
A protester holds a sign during a demonstration regarding motion M-103 at Toronto City Hall. - CHRISTOPHER KATSAROV / THE CANADIAN PRESS
An anti-Islamic protester is pursued by a group of protesters with opposing views in Toronto. - CHRISTOPHER KATSAROV / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Protesters gather at Toronto City Hall. - CHRISTOPHER KATSAROV / THE CANADIAN PRESS
People gather at Toronto City Hall. - CHRISTOPHER KATSAROV / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Police keep a watchful eye on protesters during a demonstration regarding motion M-103 at Toronto City Hall. - CHRISTOPHER KATSAROV / THE CANADIAN PRESS
A protester is detained by police during a demonstration regarding motion M-103 at Toronto City Hall. - CHRISTOPHER KATSAROV / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Opposing groups of protesters clash Montreal. - GRAHAM HUGHES / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Opposing groups of protesters clash Montreal. - GRAHAM HUGHES / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Opposing groups of protesters clash Montreal. - GRAHAM HUGHES / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Opposing groups of protesters clash Montreal. - GRAHAM HUGHES / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Opposing groups of protesters clash Montreal. - GRAHAM HUGHES / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Police hold back protesters in Montreal. - GRAHAM HUGHES / THE CANADIAN PRESS
A police officer steps on a flare as protesters look on during a demonstration in Montreal. - GRAHAM HUGHES / THE CANADIAN PRESS
People hold signs during a demonstration in Montreal. - GRAHAM HUGHES / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Protesters opposing motion M-103 demonstrate in Montreal. - GRAHAM HUGHES / THE CANADIAN PRESS
People hold signs during a demonstration regarding motion M-103 in Montreal. - GRAHAM HUGHES / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Police hold back protesters in Montreal. - GRAHAM HUGHES / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Police hold back protesters in Montreal. - GRAHAM HUGHES / THE CANADIAN PRESS

More than 200 people showed up for duelling protests at city hall over competing versions of Canadian values Saturday, clashing verbally over what free speech and hate speech mean.

The scenario of opposing rallies was expected to play out in dozens of cities and towns across the country.

Here and in other cities, the rallies brought together supporters and opponents of Motion 103, which Mississauga Liberal MP Iqra Khalid introduced to condemn "Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination."

The Montreal-based Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens, a Facebook group widely reported to be linked to white supremacists, called for the rallies to oppose the parliamentary motion as a limit on free speech.

In Winnipeg, their rally brought out individuals who said they feared Muslims were trying to impose their culture and who were equally suspicious of the Islamic holy book, the Qur’an.

Khalid introduced the anti-Islamophobic motion in the Commons late last year, but it took on a greater public profile after the mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque Jan. 29. Since then, it has become a lightning rod for debate over how to define Canadian values of pluralism.

In Winnipeg, an anti-fascist activist group called Fascist Free Treaty 1 (FF1) organized its own rally to oppose the coalition’s presence and support the parliamentary motion.

By noon, their supporters represented the majority of protesters at city hall.

"When you show up, we show up," said one of their organizers, Omar Kinnarath. He identified himself as a refugee, a Muslim and a Canadian. The crowd loudly cheered him on.

"This is the beginning of the anti-fascist resistance in this country. There’s rallies like this all the way from Charlottetown to Victoria... It’s too easy to pick on Muslims," Kinnarath said after.

Several followed Kinnarath to the front steps of city hall, including Michael Champagne, a North End community activist with Aboriginal Youth Opportunities’ Meet Me at the Bell Tower rallies held Friday evenings on Selkirk Avenue.

Champagne invited protesters to the next Bell Tower event.

None of the organizers of the initial rally — to oppose the parliamentary motion — stepped forward to identify themselves.

Their Facebook page said they had planned to open the event by singing O Canada, and they banned provocative signs at the rally, calling for placards with patriotic slogans.

Some critics said that was a deliberate ruse to hide their white supremacist sympathies. Their Facebook page expressed some apprehension over the counter-protest, urging supporters to let police know if they were attending.

Winnipeg Police Service spokesman Rob Carver said police didn’t need to be called in by one side or the other. They were well aware of the competing rallies and planned to monitor them as a precautionary measure.

A dozen or more uniformed officers were visible on the edges of the crowd. At least two officers could be seen overlooking the protests from the roof of city hall.

Reports surfaced Saturday morning one of the anti-motion organizers was a neo-Nazi, a Winnipeg mother who once called herself the "Nazi Mom." Her stated beliefs and those of her husband a decade ago alarmed child welfare officials so much they temporarily removed the couple’s two children from the family home.

Several people who indicated they supported the anti-motion coalition drew clusters of counter-protesters who denounced them loudly and repeatedly while the public speeches carried on.

At one point, some protesters tore up a pink sign with hateful messages carried by one man who said he copied them from the Qur’an. He found himself confronted. Other protesters picked up the pieces to hand back to him. He left the rally.

A man wearing a bright red Trump campaign ball cap stamped with "Make America Great Again" said the cap was a deliberate call for attention to spark the counter-protesters.

"I’m a provocateur kind of guy," he said.

"I’ve been called a fascist six or seven times," said another, a tall, bearded man. He faced the counter-protesters while appearing to record them with an iPhone.

His companion, a woman who gave her name as Crystal, said she attended the coalition’s rally to support free speech.

"I don’t believe in Islamophobia. It’s a made-up word, a way to criticize anyone who criticizes Islam," she said.

Crystal also admitted to some misgivings: counter-protesters told her one of the organizers had been seen with a swastika tattooed on his arm.

"That’s not something I knew about before I got here," she said.

The rally finished off with a final word of thanks from Shahina Siddiqui, the president of the Islamic Social Services Association.

Siddiqui said afterward she felt gratified by the strong support for a pluralistic society.

"The only way to defeat hate, phobia and racism is for the majority to stand up. If we remain silent, we give a platform to racism. And today, we stood up. We showed that enough is enough," she said.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by  Alexandra Paul.

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History

Updated on Saturday, March 4, 2017 at 5:27 PM CST: Headline changed.

6:17 PM: Headline clarified

7:53 PM: Slideshow added.

9:39 PM: Edited.

10:59 PM: Attendees clarified.

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