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Toronto for Free Speech or Human Rights?


Yesterday, on International Women's Day, a packed crowd gathered at OISE on Bloor West. Shaila Kibria from the university's administrative council spoke of a recent incident at Hart House where a Muslim student was followed into the bathroom and shoved.

The assailant pushed a flyer for the Toronto Supports Denmark rally scheduled the same time as the Women's Day march and said, "You're a Muslim, you should learn from this."

The student ran away from a second person charging at her, shouting racial slurs. When Kibria heard of this incident, she was so furious, she and about 25 other Muslim students, proudly sporting Hijabs, held a demonstration the following day. They had eggs thrown at them.

"When the university makes an statement that Freedom of Expression should not be curbed, yet human rights must be respected, what does that mean," says Kibria. "Every since 9/11, we're all afraid to speak up. No Muslim on campus feels safe now."

Down the street at the Danish Consulate, the Toronto Supports Denmark rally was to encourage freedom of speech in a friendly, peaceful way -- and to condemn the worldwide violence springing from the published Muhammad cartoons.

Organizers Nav Purewal (a 21-year-old blogger) and Daniel Dale say they had not heard of this incident before I brought it up and said they were appalled.

"We don't condone that at all," says Dale. "We're going to have Muslims here as friends and it's an insult. That incident there wasn't freedom of speech, that was violence, same as reaction to the cartoons around the world."

One sign at the rally read "All We Are Saying is Give Speech a Chance" while another read "Freedom Rings Whenever Opinions Clash."

Former broadcast journalist and Conservative candidate Peter Kent spoke the rally as a representative of the non-profit group Canadian Coalition for Democracies (CCD).

"Any democracy worth its salt should be strong enough to endure the most controversial speech," says Kent. "That speech cannot be corrupted or compromised or silenced by intimidation or fear of violent reprisal."


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