Anti-Islamophobia motion brings out hundreds for protest, counter-protest

The opposing protests were both sparked by M-103, the polarizing anti-Islamophobia motion tabled by a Mississauga MP.

Protests sparked by M-103, anti-Islamophobia motion tabled by Mississauga MP

Hundreds attended protests in Nathan Phillips Square on Saturday, both for and against an anti-Islamophobia motion. (Adrian Cheung/CBC News)

Hundreds gathered for a protest — and counter-protest — at Nathan Phillips Square on Saturday, sparked by a polarizing anti-Islamophobia motion.

The opposing chants of protestors from both sides rang out through the space in front of City Hall on Saturday afternoon. 

"My fears are not irrational," chanted a group opposing M-103, the motion tabled by Mississauga—Erin Mills Liberal MP Iqra Khalid back in December.

"No hate, no fear, Muslims are welcome here," chanted protestors in favour of the motion.

M-103 aims to condemn and combat Islamophobia, acts of discrimination and hate against Muslims.

"The text of the motion... really calls for a study on all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada," Khalid told CBC on Saturday.

"And the intention was basically to understand what is happening at the grassroots level, and how we can, as a whole government, try to tackle issues that affect our diversity — which is our strength."

Protestors for, against M-103

But the motion has led to fierce debate in the House of Commons and beyond, with some critics saying that it could stifle free speech, and petitions opposing it garnering thousands of signatures online.

"I've talked to many Canadians that are very worried that the freedom of speech is going to be little by little taken away from us, whereas we cannot even mention anything regarding Islam and Sharia Law," Georges Hallak, founder of the Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens — the group behind the protest against M-103 — told CBC earlier this week.

In contrast, Sarah Ali, who was at Saturday's protest with the group Organizing Committee Against Islamophobia, hopes M-103 is "passed immediately."

"Islamophobia, white supremacy and fascism are just not welcome on the streets of Toronto," she said.

Police formed barricades during Saturday's protests. There were also multiple arrests, said Const. Allyson Douglas-Cook.

Two people were arrested and are now facing charges, while a third was arrested and released at the scene, she said. There is no word yet on what the two were charged with.

Similar protests were planned across the country, including at city halls in Saskatchewan, and in Montreal, Que., which led to several scuffles.

Despite the controversy, Khalid stressed that the motion focuses on building bridges between communities.

"When we call for the flu shot, it's during the winter season... hate crime reports against the Muslim community, specifically, have doubled in the past number of years, and I think it's something that warrants looking at, but in the context of all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination," she said.

M-103 is expected to be up for debate again in April.

With files from Adrian Cheung, Sarah Bridge, Shanifa Nasser, CBC News