'Freedom and liberty' march to be met with rival 'anti-fascist' march at city hall

Hundreds of people are expected to gather outside city hall on Saturday as part of two rival demonstrations for the right to free speech and protections against racism.

The Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens and Hamilton Against Fascism supporters meet Saturday

Hundreds are heading to city hall on Saturday to fight against racism on one side and promote "free speech" on another. (Terry Asma/CBC)

Hundreds of people are expected to gather outside city hall on Saturday as rival demonstrations are scheduled at the same time over issues arising from minority and diversity rights in Canada.

One protest claims to fight for the "right to free speech" while the other denounces fascism and calls for greater protections against racism in Hamilton — issues which organizers say are becoming increasingly polarized because of political tensions across the country and in the U.S.  

The second "anti-fascism" march was called to deliberately counter the other, which had been organized first.

U.S. President Donald Trump's election and policy reforms, alongside the federal government's controversial Islamaphobia motion, M-103 will be at the forefront of Saturday's debate, both sides say. 

'Standing up for the freedom of speech'

The March for Freedom, Liberty and Justice kicks off at noon, as part of a nationwide protest organized by the Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens, to demonstrate "against Shariah law and globalization," according to a Facebook post. 

"We are standing up for the freedom of speech," said Georges Hallak, founder of the Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens.

"We believe that every Canadian citizen has the right to express their thoughts, feelings, without hate ... We're against the motion M-103, which we find the Charter of Rights protects all citizens of Canada, minorities. We feel that motion M-103 is a completely useless motion."

The Montreal-based group that advocates on social issues has been at the centre of recent challenge to M-103 — a motion that gives representatives the right to condemn Islamophobia and track incidents of hate crimes against Muslims in the House of Commons. 

These demonstrations will take place in 66 cities across the country. 

Hallak expects over 100 people to attend the rally in Hamilton, but says those numbers could be smaller because "people are scared" of the way their views are portrayed as Islamophobic.  

"Many Canadians are scared because of these movements," he told CBC News. "We don't hate Muslims... I just want Canada to be a peaceful country." 

'Fascism is not welcome in Canada'

But this voice will be met with opposition. 

In reaction to this march, Hamilton Against Fascism has planned a counter rally from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the same site.

"It certainly seems forces on the far right are emboldened since Trump won," said Martin Rosso, an organizer of the counter protest. "We watched the rise of Trump increase the climate of hate in the U.S. and we saw similarities happening in Canada, like Kellie Leitch."

Many believe the political climate in the U.S. has led to a rise in right-wing politics north of the border, with figures such as Conservative MP, Kellie Leitch, and led to a spate of hate crimes. (Codie McLachlan/Canadian Press)

The anti-fascist group founded a month ago, says it hopes "to effectively drown out and stop the Islamophobic rally from happening and we're going to build community and present a strong united face that fascism is not welcome in Canada or Hamilton." 

Other organizations, such as Hamilton's Revolutionary Communist Party, two McMaster University groups, Muslims for Peace and Justice and Womanists, amongst other social justice and Muslim associations throughout the city have come out in support of the protest.  

Rosso says he is expecting over 500 people to attend because of this. 

After the Quebec Mosque attack in January, many people came brandishing "Hamilton is for everybody" signs at a rally denouncing Islamophobia on Jan. 30, a similar sentiment that Hamilton Against Fascism is trying to promote this weekend. (Adam Carter/CBC)