BY BILL PHILLIPS
It was supposed to be a rally to protest M103, the federal Liberals’ anti-Islamophobia motion.
It turned out to be more of a rally in support of the motion or, failing that, in support of the local Muslim community and of diversity.
The rally was called for on Facebook by a group calling itself the Canadian Coalition for Concerned Citizens. The Prince George rally was slated to be held in conjunction with other such rallies across the country.
A small group of about eight people got a bit of a surprise when they showed up at City Hall at noon Saturday as they were greeted by a group called P.G for Unity in Our Community, comprised of many members of the Muslim community, Stand up for the North Committee, and BCGEU members, displaying banners with such slogans as “no to Islamophobia.”
According to its Facebook page, the anti-protest protest was “to stand together to protect the rights and safety for all Canadians,” and said some in the crowd to support diversity and show that Islamophobia is not welcome here. Close to 100 people showed up to rally against the original anti M-103 rally.
The initial group there for the Canadian Coalition for Concerned Citizens rally moved around to the other side of City Hall and were happy to express their views to the Daily News, saying they were feared that the Liberals’ motion would open the doors to Sharia becoming law in Canada and, consequently, eliminate freedom of speech, which is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The group, however, did not want to be photographed.
Later, a different group there to protest M103 showed up and was less concerned about their visibility.
They said they didn’t like being labelled as racists. A Citizen story promoting the event used the headline: “Racist group plans rally.” The group said it was concerned the motion, which “condemns Islamophobia in Canada, along with all other forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination,” singled out Islamophobia. The Conservative opposition tabled a similar motion with the word ‘Islamophobia’ removed, but that was rejected by the Liberals.
“If it is so important to protect one religion from criticism, should not all religions be given the same protection,” said Tanya, a rally participant who didn’t want to give her last name. “All religions are already protected under Canadian law, why does, suddenly, Islam need special protection?”
Part of the concern with the motion is that Islamophobia is not readily defined. To the Canadian Coalition for Concerned Citizens the fear is that even criticizing Islam will not be tolerated should the motion become a law.
The actual motion, however, talks about “reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia.”
Tanya also said that should such a motion ever become law in Canada it would make Sharia a part of Canadian law.
Fifty feet away a man stood with a sign saying: “Sharia is not a law, it’s a way of life.” According to the P.G. For Unity in our Community Facebook page, “the claim that Muslims and immigrants want to impose sharia law in Canada. That is a lie and not true! Their claims are ignorant and baseless.”
With the exception of one apparently belligerent man who was condemned by both groups, the rallies co-existed side-by-side and, being only 50 feet apart, there was room for conversation.
“The turnout was great and we really made a statement against hatred,” said P.G. for Unity in Our Community organizer Hira Rashid in a Facebook post after the two rallies. “We even succeeded in some good conversation with the other group and I think that was really important. Of course there was tension and some not so great interactions but I am proud to say that we were successful and the event was powerful.”