Hundreds gathered at the south steps of the Manitoba Legislative Building on Saturday, Sept. 9, to take part in the Winnipeg Diversity Rally Against Hate, organized in response to a planned gathering by members of the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam (WCAI) who were supposed to hold a rally in downtown the same day.
The event was hosted by Islamic Social Services Association Inc. (ISSA) – an organization that works to provide precise information on Islam to the public, as well as working together with other interfaith organizations on human rights issues.
Speaker after speaker expounded on the themes of denouncing hate and embracing diversity.
Emcee Krishna Lalbiharie opened the event by explaining how racist and fascist organizations in Winnipeg have been emboldened by recent events in Charlottesville that resulted in violent clashes between white supremacists and anti-fascist protestors.
“Bigots marched thunderously mulling hatred and antisemitism and Islamophobia and xenophobia and homophobia and misogyny […] under the rubric banner reading ‘Unite the Right,’” he said.
“In Canada and all over the world we instead unite against the hate with zeal, with intelligence, with compassion, with empathy, and with love.
“Love trumps hate. Always.”
Shahina Siddiqui, president of ISSA, spoke at the event denouncing hatred against minorities and condemned discrimination against Indigenous peoples in Canada.
“Some may think I am here to talk about Islamophobia, but guess what: I am here to about antisemitism. I am here to talk about homophobia. I am here to stand with our black community,” Siddiqui said.
“I am here to stand with all those marginalized communities that face racism.”
“I am here first and foremost for the first peoples of this country, of this nation, of this land Racism against the Indigenous of Canada is shameful, it’s deplorable and it’s disgusting.”
Siddiqui placed emphasis on her experience immigrating to Canada more than 40 years ago.
“As a grandmother, I want my grandchildren to know that the newcomers who came to this land came through the front door,” she said.
Siddiqui emphasized that immigrants must stand with First Nations communities to fight racism.
Following Siddiqui, Nahanni Fontaine, NDP MLA for St. Johns, also spoke at the event, commending residents of Winnipeg for coming out in large numbers for the rally.
“From where I am standing, it is such a beautiful sight to see so many Manitobans come together in defiance of hate,” she said.
“You are all so beautiful, and so diverse, and I am so proud to be a Manitoban.”
Thanking the organizers, Fontaine said, “I want to first and foremost say Miigwech to the organizers, and more specifically to Shahina who has been doing this for many, many years not only for the Muslim community but for all of us. For our children and the next generations of our children so that we can live in a truly equitable Manitoba.”
In her speech, Fontaine also reflected on what it means to acknowledge the land before starting gatherings. Reflecting on her grandfather’s experience fighting Nazis as a young man and having spent nine months as a prisoner of war, Fontaine said, “Indigenous peoples will never, ever stand for that on our territories.”
Kevin Lamoureux, MP for Winnipeg North and one of the event speakers, emphasized the value of the diverse fabric of Canada.
“Our greatest asset is our diversity: it is our diversity that makes us the wonderful country we are today,” he said.
“And a part of that diversity is to fight injustices and hatred is one of those injustices that we should not tolerate in society.”
Humaira Jaleel, co-chair of Amnesty International Winnipeg – Group 19, highlighted the importance of such public gatherings.
“I bring my kids to each and every one of them,” she said, “because this shows that there are more people who are supportive of our diverse culture, who are supportive of love, not hate.”
Against fascism: same message, different rally
Prior to the rally at the Legislative Building, another rally organized by Fascist Free Treaty 1 (FF1) and Winnipeg Against Fascism, labeled Winnipeg Unites Against Hate and White Supremacy, took place at the corner of Portage Avenue and Spence Street, not far from the University of Winnipeg.
Omar Kinnarath, an organizer for FF1, spoke to the Manitoban about the continued need for events that denounce hatred. Kinnarath noted “None of us want to be here.”
“None of us, a year ago, would have imagined that we would be organizing against hate groups,” he said.
“It is something we have to do, something that we have experience with, and something that we need to get together and do any time that white supremacists even entertain the idea of showing up.”
Over the past few weeks, antisemitic graffiti referencing the Ku Klux Klan has been found in Omand Park and along Wellington Crescent.
“We live in a community that will organize against [racism] every single time,” he said.
“We will stand up for each other […] so hate groups do not have a future here,” Kinnarath said.
Observing that, “Racism is not different anywhere, racism is the same everywhere,” Kinnarath added that in order to curb racism, communities must “deny [white supremacists and racists] a platform.”
“Don’t pay attention to them,” he said, “and anytime they show up, crush them with numbers and crush them with love like we saw today.”