There were tense moments in Montreal and Toronto Saturday between supporters and opponents of M-103, a non-biding Parliamentary motion that calls for the Canadian government to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”
In Montreal, a heavy police presence outside city hall kept the two sides apart as a demonstration by critics of the motion was met by an equally large counter-protest.
Despite police efforts to keep the two sides apart, some isolated scuffles occurred between the two sides as tempers flared.
Police say there were no arrests or injuries.
On one side, some protesters carried signs calling for free speech and waved the flags of right wing groups that have sprung up in Quebec recently, while their opponents chanted anti-fascist slogans and expressed support for immigrants and Muslims.
“We want free speech, as is our right in the Charter of Freedoms,” Norman Wintermute told Global News reporter Felicia Parrillo. “We have the right to opinion.”
Anti-fascist activist Jaggi Singh accused groups like Wintermute’s of being “basically an Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, racist organization hiding behind free speech.”
In Toronto, supporters and opponents of M-103 took to Nathan Phillips Square, where many argued and traded chants and slogans.
The Montreal-based Canadian Coalition for Concerned Citizens had published a Facebook post calling on “all Canadian Patriots that believe in freedom, liberty and justice that stands against Sharia Law and globalization” to attend.
Many did, but were significantly outnumbered by counter-protesters, who were kept at bay by a line of police.
“We thought it would be a great idea for us to demonstrate that we rejected hate and we will not stand while people promote Islamophobia,” Walied Khogali, member of the Coalition Against White Supremacy and Islamophobia, told Global News reporter Erica Vella.
At least two people were arrested, according to Toronto police.
Protests and counter-rallies also took place in Winnipeg and in downtown Saskatoon, where a small group of people opposed to M-103 were seen singing the Canadian national anthem in a video shared to Twitter.
Ontario Liberal backbencher Iqra Khalid brought forward the motion in Parliament last year, and since then she has received numerous racist and sexually derogatory emails that were laced with expletives.
Heritage Minister Melanie Joly, who prominently backed the motion, also found herself on the receiving end of similar kinds of messages.
The Opposition tried to pass an amendment last month removing the word “Islamophobia” from the motion, saying it singles out one religious group over others.
But the Liberals used their majority to block the effort.
Protests against the motion were also expected to take place in Calgary and Vancouver.
— The Canadian Press, Felicia Parrillo, Erica Vella and Jessica Patton contributed to this report.