Demonstrations against the EDL and JDL in Toronto

Protest against the EDL in Toronto

Police arrested several protesters outside a Toronto Jewish centre where the leader of the controversial English Defence League was speaking over the Internet to supporters on Tuesday night. Demonstrators blocked the street in front of the Toronto Zionist Centre, shouting "EDL go to hell" and "neo-Nazi fascist thugs" until forced onto a sidewalk by police. An officer had to receive medical treatment after one of the protesters struck him in the stomach with a protest sign, said Sergeant Todd Jocko. Up to four people were arrested but had not been charged as of press time last night. Eight officers on horseback were eventually brought in to control the small crowd.

Inside, Tommy Robinson, leader of the EDL, a British anti-Islamist group, was addressing about 50 supporters through an online video feed projected onto a movie screen. "Canadians wake up. The Islamicization of your country is on its way," he said. The rally in support of Mr. Robinson was organized by the right-wing Jewish Defence League under the banner "stop political Islam," but Canada's largest Jewish organization opposed the event, citing the tactics of the EDL, which is known for demonstrations that often degenerate into violence. "Islamic fundamentalism is a real threat. But fighting it with generalized hatred against Muslims, as does the EDL, is only a recipe for fuelling more conflict," said Bernie Farber, CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress. "We join with all the leading British Jewish organizations in condemning the intolerance and violence that the EDL represents."

The Toronto rally is believed to be the EDL's first foray into Canada since the group formed in 2009 in response to what Mr. Robinson calls the "Islamization" of Britain. "We're fighting for our children, we're fighting for our freedom. Islam stands fundamentally against everything we stand for," Mr. Robinson, 27, said in his 15-minute speech. The Toronto support rally comes as the EDL is trying to forge international links with like-minded groups in Europe and North America. "The EDL needs international support to help it support the values of freedom that Britain was once famous [for]. Now is the time to step forward and stop political Islam," read a flyer posted on the JDL website.

But critics argue the EDL is anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant, and that its demonstrations too often end in street violence. The Toronto wing of Anti-Racist Action had reportedly called on activists to turn up outside the rally. "The English Defence League is a far-right extremist organization," reads an open letter signed by two dozen activist groups, among them Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and the Canadian Arab Federation. "The EDL has organized violent street marches that target Arab and Muslim people," it says. "They are part of an alarming rise in fascist, racist and neo-Nazi organizing in Europe over the last few years, including attacks on Muslims, immigrants and Roma people."

The rally and counter-rally in Toronto in some ways mirrored the scenario that has been unfolding for the past two years in the U.K., where the leftist United Against Fascism has been clashing with the EDL. Wayman Bennett, the UAF's joint secretary, said the EDL's attempts to present itself as opposed to Islamist extremism rather than Muslims was "a bit like the Ku Klux Klan saying they're not against all black people.... This is an organization that's trying to lead pogroms in this country really." "We do not urge you to hate every Muslim in Canada, we ask you to empower the good Muslims so they can fight their 7th century counterparts, we ask you to join us in the truly global fight against radical Islam," the EDL said in response to questions submitted by the National Post.

© The National Post

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