On Dec. 18, nearly 200 students, community members, Indigenous activists and workers rallied at X (Ryerson) University to say no to Indigenous genocide denial. The rally was organized as a response to a far-right rally announced by the Ryerson Conservatives, with People’s Party of Canada (PPC) Leader Maxime Bernier and Ontario MPP Randy Hillier—leader of the PPC’s Ontario wing, known as the Ontario First Party—set to speak. Also included were a number of openly fascist groups such as the Plaid Army and Canada First. However, due to the two weeks of mobilizing spearheaded by X University students, the reactionary forces began arguing amongst themselves and were forced to cancel.
The anti-far-right coalition, initially sparked by Socialist Fightback Students, quickly gained support from many different groups in the community. In particular, CUPE 4400, CUPW, OSSTF, ETT, and the Toronto and York Region Labour Council signed on, which gave the rally a strong connection to the labour movement. In addition, a number of other groups from the left joined up, including the United Jewish People’s Organization, Socialist Action and the Communist Workers Circle. The rally itself also included members from IWW Toronto and Toronto Against Fascism.
With so many signing on, it was clear that the majority was opposed to seeing the far right organizing in their communities. It was not long before fascists from the Plaid Army and Canada First began to send racist and misogynistic abuse and death threats to student activists. Feeling the pressure from such a broad working-class coalition, the Ryerson Conservatives quickly cancelled the event, proving that mass action is the only effective way of dealing with the far right.
The counter-rally went on as planned, rebranded as a victory rally. Despite the snowy and inhospitable weather on the day, nearly 200 showed up to showcase their support. The speakers included many from the labour movement, Indigenous movement and student movement. Banners reading “Workers Unite Against the Far Right” and “Wet’suwet’en Strong” were prominently displayed.
Alexxus Leigh Newman, an Indigenous student, spoke passionately about why there was a need to organize. “The administration was prepared to let the far right gather here… Because of our coalition, because of our solidarity and unity across organizations, unions and individuals, the Conservatives cancelled their event and Maxime is not here,” Newman stated before the crowd. She went on to speak about the crimes of colonization in Canada, which the far right deny. “Make no mistake—there was a genocide in this country… colonialism that destroyed a whole people. My people.” She also explained the important connection between Egerton Ryerson and the residential school system which “resulted in thousands of children dying in unmarked graves. Thousands of children with no families, and thousands of children with horrifying trauma.”
Alex Grant, editor of Fightback magazine, also spoke at the rally. He highlighted the nature of capitalist crisis. “In periods of capitalist crisis, society polarizes,” Grant said. “It goes to the left, and it goes to the right. Overwhelmingly, however, public sentiment has not gone to the right, but to the left!” He went on to explain that the status quo within society is losing support, and that due to this, figures like Maxime Bernier seek to shift the blame from capitalism to the poorest layers of society—immigrants, Indigenous people and other minorities. “If you think about it, what argument is more logical?” Grant asked. “That the people with power—the bankers, the bosses—have ruined society, or that the people with no power have ruined society?” This was met with great applause from the crowd.
Despite the great turnout and the collapse of the far-right rally, a small group of far-right provocateurs turned up to yell insults. Well-organized security kept them at a safe distance so the rally could proceed without harassment. They promptly retreated, running back into their caves.
Mass organizing methods lead to victory
Although this is undoubtedly a great victory, especially considering the mere two weeks in which the coalition organized, it is important to understand that without organizing and putting pressure on the Ryerson Conservatives & co., their rally would never have been cancelled. If the far right had been ignored, they would have organized openly on the campus. They would have then come back, and done so again and again, and potentially even began to push back against the X University name change and for the maintenance of colonial structures.
In the leadup to the rally itself, the fascists unleashed a plethora of violent threats against student activists. Some of these fascists even went so far as to describe in detail how to commit violence against the opposition, from buying knuckleduster gloves filled with lead to pummel activists, to throwing urine filled water-bottles at attendees. No doubt they expected a few isolated individuals. However, due to the methods used to organize, instead they quickly became faced with union banners and working class students and Indigenous people standing in opposition to them.
This led to a situation where the fascists and fascist collaborators—the Ryerson Conservatives—began to break up under pressure. The fascists were quickly exposed as violent. Through our organizing, we showed in practice that the violence comes from the right. As this was revealed, this placed the Ryerson Conservatives in a very uncomfortable position. They quickly got cold feet, and decided to cancel the entire event. This was quickly followed by announcements by both Bernier and Hillier that the event was cancelled.
Maxime Bernier, instead of blaming the violent fascist thugs threatening to kill activists, decided that it was actually student activists that were the violent ones! No doubt wanting to save face, he quickly posted publicly that he was “disappointed [the Ryerson Conservatives] gave into leftist extremists.” In other words, Bernier saw death threats being sent by the fascists and instead of denouncing them, decided to blame student activists! However, this is clearly contradicted by the facts. The Ryerson Conservatives themselves, certainly not a far-left group, have put out two separate statements highlighting the violent threats of the far right. In fact, the Ryerson Conservatives actually blamed the PPC and Maxime Bernier for this, stating, “We asked the PPC for assurances that Tyler Russell and Canada First would not be welcome…only to be told that he was going to be attending.” Clearly, Maxime Bernier is a liar. It is also clear that with the correct methods of struggle the far right can be split and discredited.
The truth is that Maxime Bernier and the PPC are more than happy to collaborate with fascist elements. He and the PPC do this by painting themselves as anti-establishment and pointing fingers at immigrants and other minorities in society as scapegoats. Due to the collapse of liberal politics which has been unable to deal with the crisis of capitalism, the PPC is gaining support, boasting a 10 per cent national approval rating in some polls. This is not because the majority of Canadians are racist or reactionary, but because the PPC claims to be an alternative to the status quo. The PPC fills up the vacuum that should be filled by the workers’ organizations, who discredit themselves by being associated with liberal capitalism.
The only way to stop anti-establishment right-wing bigotry is to provide anti-establishment socialist answers. This will show people that Bernier doesn’t actually offer any real change. Providing a socialist solution to the capitalist crisis brings working class people together and cuts the legs out from under the PPC’s rhetoric. This is what is needed to stop Maxime Bernier.
What this victory has shown is that with mass open organizing, and an open set of socialist ideas that bring together all members of the workers and oppressed, we can provide an answer to the capitalist crisis and keep fascists like those that associate with the PPC out of our communities. Only mass action in the streets can win this fight and provide security for our communities. This time we organized a united front against Indigenous genocide denial; the next time we will unite to defend any sector of the workers and oppressed who come under attack. We believe that an injury to one is an injury to all, and that united we all win.