At around 2:00 pm on July 15, protesters assembled at the 48th Highlanders of Canada Regimental Memorial in Queen’s Park in support of “The Halifax Five,” a group of five military members who were involved in an incident at a rally organized by Indigenous activists in downtown Halifax this past Canada Day.
Indigenous activists had gathered on Canada Day at a statue of Edward Cornwallis to draw attention to historical events surrounding the founding of Nova Scotia. As governor, Cornwallis issued a bounty on the scalps of the indigenous Mi’kmaq people.
The five servicemen approached the event after hearing that there was an anti-Canada rally. They questioned the demonstrators on their purpose and the two groups exchanged disagreeing perspectives. The confrontation lasted approximately ten minutes, after which the servicemen left.
In an opening statement at yesterday’s rally, University of Toronto Students in Support of Free Speech (SSFS) president Mari Jang described the ensuing media coverage of the event as having “so much misinformation and blatant lies.” Jang also lamented the public’s tendency to believe a written article rather than watching firsthand video evidence.
“We all know that there is a very heavy leftist bent in the media in general, but I’ve never seen anything like what’s happened to the Halifax Five. Almost all the major media outlets in the country are straight up lying about them,” said SSFS member and rally organizer Simon Capobianco in the following speech.
Capobianco said the media painted the Halifax Five as “a bunch of drunken hooligans.”
“[If] you watch the video, what you see is the complete opposite of that… What you actually see is them being incredibly polite, incredibly respectful, not disrupting anything, and being repeatedly physically threatened, and that’s on camera,” Capobianco said.
The event was organized by SSFS and was attended by approximately 40 supporters, many of whom were University of Toronto, York University, and Ryerson University SSFS members. Also present to show their support were members of the Proud Boys, a pro-Western values fraternal organization that the Halifax Five belonged to.
SSFS’s reasons for being involved in the Halifax Five controversy and their affiliation with the Proud Boys has been questioned in the days leading up to the event.
“The Proud Boys are a separate group. We are not the Proud Boys; the Proud Boys are not us. We are simply here and we simply agree with the Proud Boys in that the Halifax Five deserved the right to speak and to freely assemble themselves in a very calm and respectful manner at the protest at Canada 150,” Noam Sibony, president of SSFS at York University, told The Toronto Beacon.
“Let’s say something like this were to happen to […] leftist groups or politically left groups where they are also silenced. We would stand up for them as well. If anyone were to approach us from the left and tell us, ‘Our civil rights were denied and we were silenced and we weren’t allowed the freedom to speak,’ we would host a rally for them as well,” Sibony said.
Organizers also invited attendees and counter-protesters to take the megaphone and address the crowd from the memorial steps.
A group of approximately 14 counter-protesters showed up 30 minutes into the event and stood across the street from the memorial while displaying signs showing their solidarity with the Indigenous activists in Halifax.
“Removing Cornwallis is moving towards reconciliation,” read one sign. “Kjipuktuk (Halifax) is unceded Mi’kmaq territory,” read another.
A smaller, separate group of counter-protesters approached around ten minutes later with a large red banner reading “Toronto Against Fascists.” The banner also sported the communist hammer and sickle symbol. The Halifax Five supporters and this group of counter-protesters faced off while a line of police separated the two groups.
“This is Indigenous land!” a counter-protester shouted. “This is Canada!” replied a Halifax Five supporter.
The division between the counter-protesters and Halifax Five supporters extended beyond the issues of the Halifax Five and of Indigenous peoples.
The counter-protesters with the banner chanted “Nazi scum, off our streets!” to which Halifax Five supporters replied with a chant of their own, “Communist scum, off our streets!”
Event organizers were aware that counter-protesters would likely be present after Antifa Toronto shared the event with their Facebook followers. Antifa groups and free speech activists have clashed at numerous events around the world before.
The Toronto Beacon reached out to Antifa Toronto but they declined to comment.