170304 M103 Protest - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

Last Saturday, March 4th 2017, a meagre bunch of bigots held a rally at city hall. As is their right. And a whole bunch more people showed up to shout them down and shut them out, as was their right. Our right. Those are the edges of my protest sign that you can see at the bottom of all of my Theta images in the video from that day.

It should also be clear that I'm not covering this as a journalist. While my audio quality is better than that of the news crews who posted breathless videos about the day, it's also compressed, edited, and layered. The photos in the slideshow are all panoramas, which tends to deemphasize the size of the crowd, but sometimes you can see the little pocket of bigots behind their line of police protection from the overwhelming and peaceful opposition. The long-lens photos below have also been uglified to accurately reflect the opinions shown, but it's important to note that the people facing away from my camera, facing toward the signs shown here, are anti-racist counter-protestors. 

Two signs from the bigots particularly stood out for me. One read “My Fears Are Not Irrational”, which sounds like the foot-stomping tantrum of an articulate six-year-old, but is actually a very particular complaint about the “phobic” part of being called Islamophobic. Along the same lines was the guy with the “Free To Criticize” poster. Seriously, you’re volunteering to be the public face of Naziism in Canada, and that milquetoast whine is the most powerful statement you’re willing to make?

But publicly, at least, that’s what this particular bunch of bigots is standing for: “Free Speech”, which they interpret as their unfettered ability to say hateful things about other people without other people saying hurtful things about them. Absolutely do not be fooled. These people are part of the same movement as those who are burning mosques, making bomb threats to Jewish community centres, and walking around with, presumably, still-warm squeeze bottles of their own urine to spray on Muslims. And that’s all just from Toronto, and all within a ten-day span of these bigots getting together to say they’re being oppressed. They can go fuck themselves with a bag of hammers.


That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; (b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it; and (c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making, (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the Committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


This shouldn't even need to be said, but: Parliamentary motion M-103 does not restrict anyone's right to say anything. Being broadly and justifiably reviled for being a bigot does not equate to systematic oppression. And anyone who doesn't think that the bigotry facing Muslims in 2017 deserves to be called out as Islamophobia has probably also said "but all lives matter!" at least once, and can refer back to the bag of hammers suggestion above.

Not that any of this actually has anything to do with M103 or some contentious definition of Islamophobia, which the government also condemned in 2016 in its response to petition e-411. No, the squawk over M103 is simply the latest pretext for people who already hate others, and hate Muslims in particular, to call out to and recruit their own. There's a short and straight line between the rabble of twitter nastiness, concern-trolling media opinionists, old-stock traditional values politicians, flag-waving freezepeach advocates, and the terroristic threats and attacks by white supremacists. They all deserve to be called out and opposed for what they are.


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