A free-speech rally did not take place in Grande Prairie on Saturday because the city cancelled its permit.
A local group called Concerned Canadians for Canadian Values had planned a “free speech rally opposing (the) M-103 Islamophobia motion” at the Muskoseepi Park amphitheatre. However, the group’s organizer, Michael Carriere, was notified by email on Thursday the permit had been cancelled. City Manager Robert Nicolay told Carriere the event could be a threat to public safety.
“In light of recent conflicts around similar gatherings across Canada and in the US, it’s not unreasonable to foresee that the proposed August 26th event may increase risk for participants, other users of Muskoseepi Park and the general public,” Nicolay wrote in the email to Carriere. “In order to eliminate this particular risk, the City is choosing not to approve the park use permit for the proposed August 26th event and will not be approving the use of any other public land for the event.”
In March, protesters and counter-protesters clashed in cities across Canada before the controversial M-103 motion passed in the House of Commons in a 201-91 vote. Violence also broke out in Quebec City Aug. 20 when counter-protesters calling themselves “anti-racist” attacked police at a right-wing rally against illegal immigration.
The event planned for Saturday was supposed to have speakers talk about free speech and M-103, Carriere said. His group has twice hosted Robert Spencer, a critic of Islam and New York Times best-selling author. This time, however, the speakers were low-profile “concerned citizens,” Carriere said.
Despite the cancellation, about 10 people still showed up at the east entrance to Muskoseepi Park, holding signs warning about radical Islam and condemning M-103. Two far-left demonstrators also came by and chatted with them. There was no confrontation.
“It’s not big enough here for that,” said Cole, who declined to give his last name because of his Communist affiliation. “It’s just like a little joke: ‘You’re here, we’re there; we support our separate sides.’ The bigger things are in the cities.”
Cole and another young man, Bogdan, displayed the red and black Anarcho-communist flag.
Carriere said the intention behind his event was “to try to stop the government from implementing a bill that stops free speech and criticism of one group.” He said he’s worried the government will use hate speech laws to suppress criticism of Islam.
M-103 requested the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to study how the government can eliminate “systemic racism” and “Islamophobia” by employing “a whole-of-government approach.” That study is now underway.
The intent was to encourage dialogue about oppression and individual freedom, “so people can express themselves as they choose, without threat of being flogged, stoned or beheaded.”
It was all too much for the parade organizers.
Vancouver Pride Society’s co-executive director Andrea Arnot said in an interview that organizers thought Cirque de So Gay made light of a nuanced issue.
“Many women choose to wear burkas. It’s part of their identity, their religion and their culture,” she said. “Of course, there are places where it’s enforced.”
Arnot says organizers found its proposal “quite shocking.”
“When I asked other people who are from that cultural or religious background, they said it was offensive,” she said. “I definitely wanted to be sensitive to what is happening in our communities right now.”
Yet, what Cirque de So Gay proposed was exactly what it did at the 2011 Vancouver Pride Parade — dancers threw off their body and face coverings to reveal very little underneath.
So, what’s changed? Nothing and almost everything.
More Muslims. Less freedom. That’s a historical fact.