Branded 'hateful' by Calgary officials, anti-Islam group vows to march regardless of permit

The Worldwide Coalition Against Islam has been advertising an event on Facebook planned for Saturday afternoon at Olympic Plaza, dubbing it the Patriotic Unity Mega Festival, but will now march after being denied a permit from the city.

Worldwide Coalition Against Islam was planning to hold an event in Olympic Plaza and now says it will march

Members of the group Worldwide Coalition Against Islam clashed with members of the group Calgary Anti-Fascist Action outside Calgary City Hall on June 3. (Kate Adach/CBC)

Members of an anti-Islam organization say they're determined to hold an event this weekend despite being told by city officials they cannot have an event permit because they espouse a message of hate.

The Worldwide Coalition Against Islam (WCAI) has been advertising an event on Facebook planned for Saturday afternoon at Olympic Plaza, dubbing it the Patriotic Unity Mega Festival.

But Calgary Recreation denied its application for a special event permit, "on the basis that your organization, and messages it espouses, are hateful," the city told the group in a written response.

'Biased city officials'

Despite the rejection, a spokesman for the group said it will hold a peaceful march starting at Olympic Plaza Sunday afternoon.

"We are going to march downtown and show the biased city officials that we will not be silenced," Jeremy Phillips messaged CBC News from a Facebook account associated with the WCAI.

"It's all about standing up for our rights and freedoms. We are not interested in a violent confrontation or anything like that. It's all about having a peaceful protest."

CBC News reached out to the city officials to clarify whether the WCAI will be allowed to march, and they would only say they are looking into it.

Pro-Muslim rallies

Meanwhile some members of Calgary's Muslim community are urging Calgarians to attend one of several pro-Muslim rallies going on in the city this weekend.

"We expect people to attend in numbers so that we can combat this kind of hate, so we can stand against oppression," said Asfa Riyaz, one of the organizers.

The International day of Al Quds rally — a controversial event that proponents say protests the oppression of Palestinians, while critics say it condemns Israel and the Jewish people — will be in front of city hall on Friday at 5 p.m.

On Saturday, a rally called We Stand United in One Love Canada is set for 12 p.m. at city hall.

And later on Saturday, at 5:30 p.m., the Calgary Anti-Oppression Interfaith Rally will also take place at city hall.

Police working with organizers

Calgary police are working with organizers of all three events to ensure they remain peaceful, said Supt. Cliff O'Brien.

When asked what would cause police to intervene at an event, O'Brien said there is a "fine line" between free speech and what would be considered hate speech.

"It has to be targeted toward an identifiable group, it has to be in public and it's likely to lead to harm against individuals," he said.

"These are investigations. We do have plans in place as far as when we would intervene, that might be after the fact, when it's safe to do so. It might be after our hate crimes coordinators have a chance to review video or review information."

Posts made to date on social media about the three rallies haven't met the threshold of criminal hate speech, said O'Brien.

He said "this has caused some anxiety amongst the Muslim community and really I want to reassure them that we will have a presence there and they will be safe."

O'Brien wouldn't say how many officers will be at the rallies but they will be both in uniform and in plain clothes.