Community activists and residents of the Church-Wellesley Village joined together this past weekend to defend the neighbourhood and block a march planned by a Christian hate group in alliance with several fascist organizations.
The atmosphere in the Village has been tense for years. Rapid gentrification and the lack of infrastructure have put incredible pressure on the neighbourhood. Crime has skyrocketed and many residents already feel under siege. Tensions with police have been high in the neighbourhood, especially after the police bungling of the Bruce McArthur serial killings, the Tess Richey murder, and death of Alloura Wells. The last thing the residents of the Village need is a hate group coming into the neighbourhood preaching fire and brimstone and spewing anti-LGBTQ hate.
David Lynn heads the Christ’s Forgiveness Ministries, a well-funded evangelical Christian hate group that is known for being rabidly anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant. Lynn is also well known in the Village. At the start of pride month in early June this year Lynn and his followers came into the neighbourhood, set themselves up at the Church-Wellesley intersection with a loudspeaker, and started to harass residents, spewing anti-LGBTQ hate. Residents confronted the group and he was ultimately arrested for disturbing the peace. According to his bail conditions he is no longer permitted to be in the area.
In response, Lynn and his fellow fundamentalists planned a “Freedom March and Prayer” through the Village on Sept. 28, claiming they were defending “civil rights for Christians.” It was no surprise that other far-right and fascist groups, including PEGIDA and yellow-vesters, announced that they would be joining the hate march. In the end, it seems that at a certain point the fundamentalists asked the fascists not to attend, and it remains unclear how many of them were there.
What was clear from the beginning was that this was a provocation, and that the march was designed to intimidate and bully the people of the Village. The response in the community was swift. The 519, the local community centre, announced that it was organizing a Unite for Love Rally that would bring together faith leaders, including Cheri DiNovo, and various local officialdom including politicians such as local Liberal MP Bill Morneau, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, and Mayor John Tory to rally against hate and bigotry at Barbara Hall Park next to the community centre. This was intended to be an all-ages event and there was no intention to stop, block, or confront the hate march.
Some members of the community were also vocal about the hypocrisy of having certain members of the officialdom such as Tory and Morneau present, who, when looking at their politics and policies, have never really done anything to help working class and oppressed people. There was also some concern that rallying the officialdom in the Village against the hate groups would not be sufficient. Weakness invites aggression. The worry was that the hate groups would be emboldened if they were allowed to invade the Village to intimidate and harass residents and that things would escalate. Thus, local anti-fascist organizations, community organizations, interfaith groups, labour unions, and members of the community organized the Stonewall Hate march in conjunction with the Unite for Love Rally with the intention of blocking the hate march and preventing the fundamentalists and fascists from entering the Village.
After some confusion on the morning of the rallies due to location changes of the 519 rally, the 500 – 600 people attending the Stonewall Hate rally marched south down Church Street to block the path of the hate march (joined also by some who were organized by the 519 and joined the march). The police had blocked off the intersection at Church and Front and prevented the two groups from approaching one another. The hate march, which had a few hundred people, was blocked by a police line on the south side of the intersection. The hate group was clearly well funded — with hundreds of professionally-made T-shirts and placards (hundreds of which went unused and were left out on the sidewalk). Those defending the Village were blocked on the north side of the intersection.
The standoff lasted hours, from around noon until around 5:30 p.m. It was difficult to tell what was happening on the other side of the police line, but whatever the case the defenders of the Village were having the better time, despite the rain. We had music and we chanted and sang, we had entertainers and dancers, and were generally enjoying ourselves.
Unfortunately, the numbers of the Village defenders began to dwindle as the afternoon went on. Fightback had a small contingent there, but towards the end of the afternoon most had to leave because of work or other commitments. Some of us were available to return later and we did so as soon as the calls went out for help.
At around 4:30 p.m., once the numbers of defenders had dwindled enough, the police allowed the hate march to make a detour and march to Yonge Street. Their destination wasn’t clear but it seemed they were intent on getting around the defenders and marching to Church and Wellesley, the heart of the Village (either that or Chick-Fil-A, not far from the Village).
The hate march was stopped by the defenders of the Village at Yonge and Adelaide. The police intervened on behalf of the fundamentalists and pushed the line of defenders to the side of the street to allow the hate march to continue up Yonge. They were eventually stopped by the defenders again at Yonge and Richmond, heading north towards the Village.
Urgent calls had been made on social media to bolster the lines of defence. As the numbers on the line of defence were being bolstered, the police once again blocked off the intersection, separating the two groups. The stand-off at Yonge and Richmond lasted around another hour. The hate marchers met the chants and songs of the defenders by singing the same lines of a hymn over and over and over again.
Finally, it became obvious that the police were bolstering their lines and were going to try to clear the defenders out of the intersection again. The mood on the defence lines was becoming increasingly boisterous and defiant. The hate group continued to sing the same hymn. The dedicated anti-fascists who were defending the front line of defence against the police and the hate marchers informed everyone that the police were about to make their move and push us off the street to the sidewalk. The front-line defenders urged everyone to buddy-up and move back when the police made their move. The goal was to have everyone make it back home that night.
The police finally made their move and began to push the defence line back to the sidewalk to clear the intersection. The front-line defenders linked up and protected the main group as we were pushed back to the sidewalk. The anger amongst the Village defenders was palpable as we demanded to know whether the hate group was being made to leave as well. At this point, people were tired and frustrated. We were totally prepared to vacate the intersection and leave as long as the hate march was being cleared out as well. The police refused to answer questions about what was happening with the hate march as more and more cops were marching into the intersection.
Refusing to allow the hate march to continue, chants of “who do you protect?” rose up from the line of defence as we began to peacefully march back out to the intersection. It was clear from the events of the day that the police wanted to protect the fundamentalists and the fascists, not those defending the Village from hate. This should come as no surprise, as the police will always side with the oppressors against the oppressed.
The police slowly backed up as we marched forward. Finally, as we were marching back into the intersection one of the marshals informed us that the police had told the hate march that they would not be permitted to continue up Yonge. The hate march turned around and began to leave as we were reforming the line of defence in the intersection. Cheers and shouts of joy erupted from the defence line as we celebrated our victory.
Once it was clear that the hate march had indeed retreated and left, we vacated the intersection and returned to the sidewalk. We decided to march in unison back to the 519 in the Village to get some food and drink and celebrate the successful defence of the neighbourhood against hate.
The Stonewall Hate march was very well organized and was a total success. It was an excellent example of how these types of actions should be done. The community and various social and activist organizations came together in unity to defend the Village. There was excellent communication between the marshals, the front-line defenders, and the march as a whole. As a result, we managed to prevent the hate march from entering the Village and protected the neighbourhood with no reported injuries or arrests. Everyone who attended the march should be proud of what was achieved. he IWW General Defence Committee, Toronto Against Fascism, Intersectional Anti-Fascists, and all the other groups who helped organize the action should be commended.
We should celebrate the successful defence of the Village and the stopping of the hate march, but this in all likelihood will not be the last time we will need to defend our neighbourhood. The community must remain vigilant and must be prepared to take to the streets again in the future to defend the neighbourhood from bigotry and hate. However, while we were successful this past weekend, it was clear that the hate march was well-funded and well-organized. We cannot face this fight alone. We need the organizations of the working class, mainly the trade unions, to provide the resources and help plan mass action, and ultimately to join in the fight against bigotry, hate, and fascist aggression. The trade unions must play a major role in the defence of working class neighborhoods and communities. We’ve made a great start though, and this past weekend showed us what can be done and showed us that united we can and will win.