Iran’s Al-Quds Day at Queens Park
August 14, 2012 | Joanne Hill - Correspondent
TORONTO – Politicians and Jewish organizations have raised the alarm about the potential for antisemitic hate speech at the annual ‘Al-Quds Day’ anti-Israel protest to be held this Saturday at Queen’s Park.
Video of last year’s protest shows speakers calling Zionists racist, inhuman barbarians, describing Israel as “the Zionist parasitical state” and urging Muslims to seize “Palestine” and subject it to Islamic law.
Another declares, “Wherever you see injustice happening, understand there is... a 100 per cent involvement by the Zionist regime. The same Zionist regime that sucks the resources, the blood and everything that belongs to the people...all across the world.”
Israel was also equated with cancer. At the 2009 protest, one speaker called for unity “in opposing this cancerous land in our society.”
Flags of the terrorist group Hezbollah were flown at last year’s protest and in 2009 a speaker denounced the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper for designating Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist groups.
The demonstration is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. at Queen’s Park and end across from the American Consulate.
Al-Quds Day was started in 1979 by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini. (Al-Quds is Arabic for Jerusalem.) Al-Quds Day protests have been held on the lawn of Ontario’s legislature for roughly 20 years, according to Dennis Clark, Sergeant-at-Arms, Queen’s Park. Permits for use of the grounds at Queen’s Park fall under Clark’s jurisdiction.
Last year’s rally was organized by the Canadian Shia Muslim Organization (CASMO); this year’s has been planned by an entity called the Al-Quds Committee.
Neither Queen’s Park nor the Toronto Police Service would release the names of individuals listed on forms filed by the Al-Quds Committee because, they said, that information is protected by the Privacy Act.
B’nai Brith Canada has criticized Queen’s Park for issuing a permit for the protest in part because of the secrecy surrounding the organizers.
“Canadians are upset that a major public space is going to be used by an organization about which they have no information,” said Frank Dimant, CEO, B’nai Brith Canada. “We have been given no assurances that due diligence was done and that this is not being run by a front group for Hezbollah or Hamas. The Al-Quds commemoration was a directive of the Iranian regime, so the possibility of a link exists. We want to know that Canada’s public places are not being misused by organizations that have no right being in this country.”
The Jewish Tribune’s email to the local Al-Quds Committee was not answered before this paper’s deadline.
Environment Minister Peter Kent stated last week that the videos from the previous year “document hate speech, racism, antisemitism [sic] and support for listed organizations that clearly exceed the limits of Canadian freedoms of free assembly and free speech.”
However, these prior statements were not deemed sufficient for Queen’s Park to deny the group a permit for this year’s event, according to the Sergeant-at-Arms.
“We don’t really base [it] on what happened in previous years,” explained Clark. “We go by what their intent is for this event and that’s all we look at. It’s what they’re going to do at this event that concerns us.”
MPP Peter Shurman said it might be time to change the rules governing permits at Queen’s Park.
“It’s high time that they did look at past performance,” said Shurman. “Let’s change the rules; whatever it takes.... I will commit to you that, once we get going again in the fall session, I’ll take a good, hard look at that and see if it can’t be the subject of some debate or at least some discussion.”
The guidelines attached to the Queen’s Park permit application form feature a section titled, ‘Illegal or Inappropriate Signs or Speeches,’ which states in part: “Although the Legislative Assembly welcomes use of the grounds to take part in political debate, illegal signs or speeches such as obscenity or hate propaganda are strictly prohibited.”
Clark said he would not reveal the conditions he placed on the permit for this event but “we made it quite clear that...anything that could be constituted as hate crimes will not be tolerated.”
Although his office will monitor what happens, it will be up to the police to determine if any laws, including those that apply to hate crimes, have been broken, said Clark.
Police Sergeant Steve Banton confirmed that the Al-Quds Committee had filed a “notice of demonstration” with the Toronto Police Service. He said a political demonstration that includes marching in the streets does not require a permit and will be “facilitated” by police because that is covered by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Detective Constable Kiran Bisla, Intelligence Division, Toronto Police Service, said she couldn’t confirm that members of the Hate Crimes Unit would be monitoring the protest in person “but police officers will be present.”
She added, “The Hate Crimes Unit is aware of the Al-Quds event that’s scheduled and we will be monitoring it as we do with any investigation relating to potential hate crime.”
When asked what would happen if Hezbollah flags were flown, given that some people might consider them to be an incitement to hatred or violence, Bisla said it’s not against the law to fly a flag. When pressed as to whether police would permit flags bearing a swastika or other Nazi symbols to be flown, Bisla responded, “A flag by itself is not a criminal offence but we have to look at the entire picture.”
She declined to comment further.
Concerns about the rally have also been expressed by Premier Dalton McGuinty, The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies. The Jewish Defence League of Canada has announced plans for a counter-protest.
According to the Al-Quds Committee website, similar events are planned for City Hall in Calgary and the Legislative Grounds in Edmonton on Aug. 17 and at the Downtown Vancouver Art Gallery on Aug. 18. Details on events in Montreal and Ottawa had not been posted as of this paper’s deadline.