By Hanna Milne

The bells of the Peace Tower clock tolled ten times on a sunny Sept. 30 morning, cutting through the tension beginning to form along Parliament Hill. Towards Parliament, a small gathering of Storm Alliance members, Proud Boys and the Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens began mingling and patrolling the grassy lawn (see our companion piece “What does Canadian Fascism Look Like?” to help identify these groups specifically).

Across the street, an exponentially-growing congregation of anti-racists, including Anti-fascist Action, Ottawa Against Fascism, Fight for 15 and Fairness, Universalist Muslims, Industrial Workers of the World, unions such as CUPE and OPSEU and many other citizens wanting to speak out against Islamophobic, racist and fascist rhetoric surrounded the Terry Fox statue and eyed the gathering on the Hill.

These anti-racists came wearing both black bloc masks and street clothes, carrying signs and air horns, megaphones and flags. They came from all walks of life — students, professors, community organizers, parents, grandparents, even children scrawling tiny messages of love across the sidewalk in fluorescent chalk. Most importantly, they came together, united, to drown out the hatred starting to take hold in Ottawa.

“Ottawa came together to make sure they could not spread their Islamophobic rhetoric and through our collective action we sent a firm message to those who preach hate and exclusion. We will not tolerate their violent intolerance,” said Ottawa Against Fascism organizer Robin, who chose to go by only this first name. When the 250-strong collective marched towards the anti-Muslim gathering, their message was heard loud and clear.

Blasting air horns and cheering “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here, racists are not welcome here!”, the crowd forced the Storm Alliance, Proud Boys and CCCC back up the Hill. Brief scuffles broke out, including one that caught media attention when known Proud Boy member Brandon Wallingford forced himself into the large crowd hiding a knife in his pocket. After being led away by police and being allowed to rejoin the racist rally, many media outlets gave him a platform — amplifying his odious views by featuring him in interviews.

After the police let the racist protesters through a fence to another side of the Hill and blocked off access, members of the united anti-fascist crowd gathered around the Centennial Flame to hear a collection of speakers. “We had fantastic speakers from many community organizations including the Universalist Muslims, Solidarity with Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, CUPE and OPSEU [and] activists who organized against Heritage Front here in Ottawa in the past,” Robin recalled with pride. “We also received a letter from Independent Jewish Voices who could not make it in person, as the far-right groups planned their national rallies on Yom Kippur.” Also included in the roster of speakers was passionate anti-fascist and performer “Mohammad Ali, the Socialist Rapper.”

Suddenly, a voice came through a speaker from the racist side of the hill. Two hours after their event was supposed to start, the far-right protesters had succeeded in setting up their sound system. The 250 counter-protesters immediately knew that it was time to shut them down. As lines of RCMP officers stretched out to try and protect the racist rally from disruption, the antifascists began their chants once again, marching in love and solidarity towards the preachers of hatred.

The police officers were forced backwards, essentially corralling the racists into a small corner of the lawn. Whenever a racist, fascist or Islamophobic speaker would speak into the mic, they would immediately be drowned out by chants of “No platform for hate!” and “Nazi scum, fuck off!” The crowd apparently intimidated the racists to the point of having riot police forces storm down the steps of Parliament Hill, wielding shields and batons. Undeterred, the crowd called out the police force with chants of “Cops and Klan go hand-in-hand!” and “Nazi safe space!”

Unable to continue speaking with so much noise, the racists ended their rally and had the police officers escort them off the hill. Counter-protesters celebrated, singing “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye” through the cracks between riot shields.

The Sept. 30 Rally Against Racism marks a victory in the fight against racism, according to Robin, currently rising to levels not seen since the 1990s in Ottawa.

“We have seen what can happen if these dangerous narratives are given space. Unfortunately this is not Ottawa’s first time dealing with these sorts of people,” Robin said. “In the ’90s we had the Heritage Front — real neo-Nazis marching here, in the streets of Ottawa. Back then, folks were willing to come out in opposition and forcefully shut down racist violence [and] on [September] 30th, we saw this once again… We succeeded beyond our expectations.”

In the end, messages of racist hate were drowned out by voices of love, unity and solidarity. Though the day was won and the crowd of anti-racists easily dwarfed the racists in number, the takeaway from the rally was that those who oppose hatred cannot rest, and must continue to show up and fight back. Even bigger rallies of solidarity are possible, and in order to face the rising tide of hate, anti-racists need to keep show up and invite others to events like these in order to multiply anti-racist resistance.

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 10, No. 2 (Oct/Nov 2017)