Police investigate anti-Muslim rally outside Toronto mosque as possible hate crime
Too soon to tell if protest crosses 'fine line' between freedom of expression and criminal act, police say
Update: Toronto police say they are not investigating the rally.
Police are looking into whether an anti-Islam rally held on the doorstep of a mosque in the heart of downtown Toronto Friday had any criminal element and whether it could be considered a hate crime.
With signs of love and support plastered to its exterior, Masjid Toronto bore little sign on Saturday of the rally held there just a day before, during which more than a dozen people — with banners and loudspeakers in hand — called for a ban on Islam as Muslims prayed inside.
Toronto police say they have received multiple complaints about the demonstration, some from those who were present at the mosque and others from those who weren't, Const. Allyson Douglas-Cook told CBC Toronto.
Douglas-Cook said it's too early to determine whether the incident will be considered a hate crime but that they are looking into the possibility.
There's a "fine line," Douglas-Cook said, between the free expression of thoughts and views, and breaching the law or violating a particular group.
Asked what that line is, Douglas-Cook responded: "That's a conversation we've been having all day."
Police say they aren't focusing their attention on any one group in particular. As with any complaint, she said, investigators will speak to witnesses, take a formal statement and, if necessary, collect evidence.
Asked if there is any criminal element to blocking the entrance of the mosque, Douglas-Cook said it was too soon to tell.
From comment sections to real life
Abdul-Basit Khan, a spokesperson for the mosque, said that in the 15 years since it was founded, he's never seen a rally like Friday's.
"You're used to seeing this kind of vitriol in the comments sections of newspapers or online. You don't necessarily see it in person. So that's what was surprising about yesterday," he said. "Especially in light of Quebec City…"
"But from the standpoint of the community and the standpoint of the mosque, I would say we have to sort of draw a balance. We want to resist division and hate and at the same time we don't want to blow this out of proportion. It's a handful of people, as I understand it."
Khan says he was nevertheless struck by the apparent level of planning that went into the protest, timed to take place on Friday, a day Muslims consider to be the holiest of the week.
But he was even more struck by the spontaneous counter-protest and shows of support by passersby and strangers, many of whom he says weren't Muslim.
'We're not supposed to forget'
Klasha White-Hockschild and her 13-year-old daughter were among them.
On Saturday, the pair stood in the spot where just a day earlier megaphones could be heard blaring slogans like "Islam is hate!" and "Muslims are terrorists!" — with signs bearing a very different message.
White-Hockschild, who is Jewish, said she felt compelled to visit the mosque after the rally, which she called "embarrassing."
"It's just not what Canada stands for," she said. "As human beings we need to support each other.
"We're not supposed to forget, but how easy it is. That's what we realize."
Her daughter had a similar, if simpler, message:
"We're all people. Just because the colour of our skin's different doesn't mean that we should be divided."
Rally held amid debate on anti-Islamophobia motion
Friday's rally came just days after MPs began debating M-103, a House of Commons motion tabled by MP Iqra Khalid to condemn Islamophobia and track incidents of hate crime against Muslims.
A Facebook post by a group called Never Again Canada celebrated the demonstration as a "great rally ... in support of free speech."
M-103 is not a bill or a law and has no legal force, which is partly why mosque attendee Mehdi Sheikh is perplexed by the vehement opposition by some toward it.
Sheikh believes fear is what is driving that opposition.
"There's a population who feel that they are becoming a minority even though, by far, white people in Canada are still the majority... I guess their fear is that the way they've treated those minorities for so many years when they came, they think that's how they'll be treated."
"Minorities are welcomed in Canada," he said. "If you become a minority, you will also be welcome."
With files from Lorenda Reddekopp