With uniformed and plainclothes police watching nearby, nine people turned up Saturday at a Sault Ste. Marie 'Freedom March' organized by the Montreal-based Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens.
Scuffles broke out at similar events in other Canadian cities, but the local demonstration on Foster Drive was peaceful.
The controversial group is concerned about M-103, a private member's motion introduced by Iqra Khalid, a Liberal backbencher representing Mississauga-Erin Mills in the House of Commons.
Khalid's motion condemns all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination, but is opposed by Conservative MPs because it refers specifically to 'Islamophobia.'
Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens fears the motion will squelch freedom of expression and may open a door to introduction of Islamic sharia law in Canada.
"We're just trying to get the word out there," says Marc Hallaert, who organized the Saturday afternoon event in Sault Ste. Marie. "We believe that we have the right to free speech and we want to ensure that it isn't taken away from us."
"They're trying to pass this [motion] that could possibly silence us against speaking out about any concerns coming into Canada. There's immigration issues on the table right now. There's just so many different issues that the Liberals are making us stand up against," Hallaert said.
"Look at the cost of heat and hydro. It's through the roof. People are struggling. Canadians are struggling. We have to protect our rights. We have stand up against this government. It seems like he doesn't care about Canadians. It's insane. It's scary."
"We should be able to speak against any religion, any topic. We should be able to converse as Canadians and be able to speak our minds without the threat of a criminal offence or anything like that."
Hallaert attended today's event with two other members of a group he identified as Storm Alliance
"It's just a group. We do a lot of beautiful things around the communities across Canada. It's a newer organization. So far, me personally, I've picked up 150 needles down in the downtown area. We've done food drives for the soup kitchen when they were so low on food."
Another group with similar interests and activities, the local chapter of Soldiers of Odin, had expressed interest in the Sault march but did not attend.
"It's different from Soldiers of Odin, absolutely," Hallaert told SooToday.
"I'm not in communication with them. At one point I was, but no, we're a separate group. They're pretty much out for the same reasons. I think we should be organized together to do a lot of different community events. We could raise a lot of money. We sent food and clothing out to Fort Mac when the big fires happened. We do a lot of good. That's all we want to do, for Canadians that need it."
Even though Saturday's event was intended to promote free expression, last-minute guidelines posted by Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens imposed restrictions on protest signs and banners.
"White supremacist/racist banners will not be permitted," the group warned.
Allowable signage included Canadian or Ontario flags, and the slogans "Freedom, Liberty and Justice for All" and "Freedom of Speech."
Also attending the Sault demonstration was Dave Selvers, a local businessman who, earlier in the week, had promoted the event on social media, adding: "If this doesn't work the next march will be for the immediate deportation of Muslims. This bulls**t has gone too far."
The following is the full text of M-103, Iqra Khalid's private member's motion titled 'systemic racism and religious discrimination':
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; (b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it; and (c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making, (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Canadian Press: Violence breaks out as supporters, critics of motion condemning Islamophobia clash
CBC Montreal: Far right groups, opponents clash at Montreal protest against federal Islamophobia motion
CTV Windsor: Scuffles break out between opponents of M-103 and members of a counterprotest
London Free Press: Two protest groups squared off over a Parliamentary motion on Islamophobia