Rival protest groups stationed on opposite sides of the street used megaphones to shout their opposing views on Islamophobia when two rallies met in Saskatoon on Saturday.
Boos and chants rang out from across the street as a group of protesters from the Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens gathered outside City Hall to protest the anti-Islamophobia federal Motion 103.
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Members of the counter-rally were staged outside the Saskatoon Public Library on 23rd Street.
CCCC rallies and counter-rallies like the ones in Saskatoon were held in cities across Canada, with bigger gatherings in Montreal and Toronto.
CCCC protests Motion 103
Motion 103 calls on the government to "condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination."
Tabled by Ontario Liberal backbencher Iqra Khalid, M-103 is a non-binding motion, not a bill or a law as it has been characterized by some critics.
The CCCC group in Saskatoon, a gathering of about 15 people, spoke of their own immigrant heritage and wanting to protect Canadian values.
Mike Landrie from North Battleford, Sask. said his opposition to M-103 was about fairness and freedom to express his beliefs.
"When you think you're entitled to something that I'm not entitled to, doesn't that set the system up for a two-tiered system?" asked Landrie.
"That's all it boils down to is being fair, equal and everything."
Protesters at the counter-rally across the street carried signs with slogans including "smash fascism" and "refugees welcome."
Islamic Association might reach out to CCCC
Omaer Jamil from the Islamic Association of Saskatchewan was part of the crowd outside the library.
He said his organization would consider reaching out to the CCCC to try to find a better way to move forward.
"We live in Canada, everybody has freedom of speech, and freedom to basically gather peacefully. So we respect their right to do that," Jamil said.
He added that although he generally feels safe, he does believe there are signs that Islamophobia is increasing in Canada.
Jamil pointed to January's mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec, which he said has shaken the Muslim community.
"But then when we saw the prime minister and the response from all of Canada, all Canadians from all walks of life, responding in such a positive manner, and coming out in support of the Muslims, we felt very relieved," he said.
Critics say motion limits freedom of speech
Motion 103 critics including Georges Hallak, the founder of the Concerned Citizens group, believe the motion opens the door to the growth of Shariah law in Canada.
"Basically this is the beginning of Shariah law, where anyone that doesn't believe in Islam, they should be silenced," said Hallak.
He also takes issue with the fact that the motion specifically refers to Islamophobia, saying it is not fair to create such a motion for Muslims and not similar motions for followers of other religions.
"I have no problem with Muslims, but we have the right to criticize any religion or belief in Canada," said Hallak.
Counter-protest in Regina
Chelsea Taylor doesn't agree that the motion limits freedom of speech.
She helped organize a counter-rally in Regina, and said Motion 103 was needed because Islamophobia is increasing.
She referenced the arson attack on a mosque in Peterborough, Ont. in 2015 and the Quebec mosque shooting.
"I would only hope that the motion after the massacre in Quebec, that it would single out Islamophobia," said Taylor.
"There are real, hateful incidents happening."
Taylor said she was also protesting against what she said was a trend in the growing misuse of facts and the spread of misinformation, particularly since the election of Donald Trump.
More about Motion 103
The text of the motion asks the government to:
- Recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear.
- Request the heritage committee study how the government could develop a government-wide approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia.
- Collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities and present findings within 240 calendar days.
The motion has generated backlash online, with petitions garnering thousands of signatures opposing the motion.