Blue Line

Key players weigh in on possible nationalist rally in Toronto

TORONTO — An online posting for a nationalist rally planned at the University of Toronto, which came to light days after a deadly clash between protesters and white supremacists in Virginia, has raised questions about how such events could play out in Canada.

August 16, 2017  By The Canadian Press

The Canadian Nationalist Party, a political organization that claims to support ethnic nationalism, has said on a Facebook event page that it plans to host the rally on the university’s campus next month, where it will “discuss the nationalist movement in Canada and the future of our country.” The group didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The posting sparked considerable backlash from observers on social media but the university, the city, police and an expert say there are many factors at play. Here are their views.

The University of Toronto

The university has said the Canadian Nationalist Party has not requested to hold the rally it says it is planning. The university has asked Facebook to pull the event page down, although it still existed as of Tuesday afternoon.


A university spokeswoman said the school wouldn’t speculate on its response to a request that hasn’t been made.

She pointed to a five-page policy on booking space at the school that states the use of school space must abide by the university’s principles.

The policy states there is a balancing act between freedom of expression and mutual respect and civility. The first principle points to the school being on private property and the university “reserves the right the right to control access to its campuses, and to the use of its space and facilities.”

The City of Toronto

Spokeswoman Wynna Brown said the city “will not tolerate, ignore, or condone illegal discrimination or harassment and is committed to promoting respectful conduct, tolerance and inclusion when permitting the use of public space and city facilities.”

She said groups who use city facilities through a permit must sign a declaration of compliance with anti-harassment and discrimination legislation.

Toronto Police

Const. Victor Kwong said officers’ jobs at any demonstration, including contentious ones, is to keep the peace and their primary concern is public safety.

Within each division, there are community response officers who are trained to work protests, he said.

Police are constantly monitoring current and historical events in order to plan and prepare for protests and said they are keenly aware of the explosion of violence in Charlottesville, Va., that left one woman dead when protesters and white supremacists clashed over the weekend.

While at a protest, officers will also be monitoring and assessing any possible hate speech that occurs, collecting evidence and building a case. Then, he said, police consult with the Crown and would require consent from the Attorney General in order to lay a hate speech charge.

The legal expert

Richard Moon, a law professor with the University of Windsor, said the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the protection of freedom of expression doesn’t apply to universities.

“The charter rights are only rights against government or government action,” Moon said. “The Supreme Court of Canada has decided that universities, despite being public institutions, are not government actors.”

If the group moves their protest to Toronto’s city hall, they’d have protection of the charter, within limits, he said. That limit is the hate speech law.

“The courts have said that hatred is extreme emotion, not just something that is offensive and contrary to people’s expectations,” Moon said. “It has to be some kind of speech that vilifies a group.”

Finding that distinction between freedom of speech and hate speech can be difficult, legally, he said.

“In a meeting like this, and they just say, for example, ‘white people are being badly treated’ and ‘there needs to be more pride in white culture’ and they say all those things … and there is some implicit message about other cultures and their belongingness, that won’t be hate speech,” Moon said. “But when you start saying these other people shouldn’t be here, or are dangerous or should be killed, then that’s different.”

– Liam Casey

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2017

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