Emotions are running high in the lead-up to a planned protest outside the Islamic Centre of York Region in Richmond Hill this weekend.
Organizers say hundreds of Iranian and Jewish Canadians and politicians will converge on Stouffville Sideroad in front of the Islamic Society of York Region to protest an event honouring the life and deeds of Ayatollah Khomeini.
“I am deeply saddened and disappointed that the commemoration of the 26th anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s death and his brutal dictatorship is taking place in Richmond Hill, Ontario,” said Reza Moridi, Richmond Hill MPP and Canada’s first Iranian-Canadian provincial minister.
Moridi is one of several provincial and federal politicians expected to attend the protest Sunday afternoon.
“While freedom of assembly is the right of every citizen in our nation, I condemn the celebration of an individual that was responsible for the heinous deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Iran,” Moridi said.
Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic in Iran, is recognized as having authorized the execution of thousands of political prisoners, the systematic torture, imprisonment and murder of political dissidents and the hostage-taking of 52 American diplomats.
A group calling itself the Muslim Community of GTA will be hosting the event, An Awakening Against Global Injustice.
Zafar Bangash, head of the Islamic Society of York Region and director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought, said 3-400 people are expected to take part, listening to speeches by “world renowned” speakers, panel discussions, and poetry, art and quiz competitions.
Bangash compared the event to others that honour good work done by heroes like Martin Luther King and Ghandi.
“It will be a reminder to us there is still a lot of injustice in the world and to see [Khomeini’s] contribution in trying to remove injustice.”
But Jason Kenney, Canada’s defence minister and another politician expected to attend the protest, sees it differently. He voiced his concern via social media last week:
“Disturbing to see anyone in Canada celebrating the murderous depravity of Ayatollah Khomeini’s brutal dictatorship.”
The Jewish Defence League of Canada and B’nai Brith Canada are also protesting the event.
“B’nai Brith, which represents grassroots Canadian Jewry, believes in a tolerant and pluralistic society that is respectful of all its citizens,” said CEO Michael Mostyn.
“Iran today is not only causing chaos in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza and Iraq, but through proxy supporters of the Ayatollah around the world, seeks to spread a message of intolerance and hatred. There is no place for the Ayatollah’s hate-propaganda in any modern civil society.”
Tarek Fatah, Pakistan-born Canadian political activist, writer and broadcaster, yesterday called out for protesters to “do something for your country and your children’s future. We need to stand up against these medieval monsters…Let’s kick some Khomeini ass”.
Reza Banai, a Canadian who says he left Iran to escape atrocities for a country that respects individual rights and security, helped organize the protest. He said the Islamic Centre is misusing this country’s freedoms.
“We are members of the Iranian-Canadian community who feel embarrassed and offended to witness such unjust ‘celebration’,” he said. “You can’t come here and celebrate this kind of evil on this land.”
Banai, of Toronto, warned that by turning a blind eye to such events, Canada could be inviting the kind of problems with extremism being experienced in Europe, where citizens “didn’t stop it when they had a chance. You deal with a cold when it is a cold, not when it turns into pneumonia.”
He questioned how the centre’s events are funded, which promises, in its invitation, gifts including laptops and cameras.
“They are throwing these inducements; obviously there is some money behind this,” he said, suggesting an investigation is called for to determine if the Iranian regime is providing funds.
But Bangash said Sunday’s event is being funded by contributions from those who attend. The free laptop, digital cameras and gift cards are donations from business people, he said.
“It’s not a huge sum of money, not like the huge amount of money stolen from Iran that these people [protesting the event] brought to Canada.”
Many claim to have been refugees, he said, but then purchased “huge mansions in Richmond Hill.
“We don’t have to explain our conduct. The ones who should explain their conduct are these people who are supporters of the Shah…who come here and make up all kinds of stories and allegations to cover up their own criminal past.”
Thanks to Khomeini, Bangash said, there is more equality and the poor are better off in Iran.
“I don’t see why these people should be worried… He stood out against injustice. Perhaps these people want injustice.”
Bangash said he was not aware of a massive protest being planned outside his mosque. Provided they don’t trespass on the centre’s property, he said, the demonstrators have a right to protest, just as his Muslim group has a right to honour Khomeini.
“We are Canadian citizens, we pay taxes, we are law abiding, we have rights.”
“They do not have the right to promote hate in this country,” Banai said.
A petition is calling on “all municipal, provincial, and federal public officials to speak out forcefully against the event.
“Any glorification of this heinous and criminal record is an insult to Khomeini’s many victims, including those who have found refuge in Canada,” the petition says. “The deliberate whitewashing of history at the expense of Khomeini’s victims, far from “an awakening against global injustice,” amounts to nothing more than a cynical ploy to further a political agenda by apologists of the Islamic regime in Iran.”
The Islamic Centre, located near Stouffville Sideroad and Leslie Street, has been a flashpoint for controversy in the past.
Last May, a variety of faith groups organized a protest against the centre’s conference on Kashmir that protesters said included radical Islamists, anti-Semitic leaders and pro-militancy Kashmir separatist speakers – but no Kashmiris.
York Regional Police have been called to monitor other controversial events at the Islamic Centre and a racially charged rally at Queens Park, Al-Quds, featured speeches by the mosque’s imam Bangash.