Richmond Hill Liberal
By Kim Zarzour
With boos and shouts of “shame”, more than 700 protesters marched outside the Islamic Society of York Region in Richmond Hill Sunday calling upon the Canadian government to denounce the society’s celebration of Ayatollah Khomeini and to investigate how the controversial event was funded.
“Today’s heinous gathering is a celebration of execution, it’s a celebration of rape, it’s a celebration of unjust imprisonment, it’s a celebration of torture,” lawyer Kaveh Shahrooz told the angry demonstrators gathered in front of the centre on Stouffville Sideroad.
Shahrooz is one of the leading activists who convinced Canada’s Parliament to recognize the 1988 Ayatollah-led massacre of 5,000 political prisoners in Iran as constituting crimes against humanity.
Zafar Bangash, president of the Islamic Society, told York Region Media Group Friday that the event would commemorate Khomeini’s good work, in the same way Martin Luther King and Ghandi are celebrated, for “trying to remove injustice”.
That comparison is “an insult to the wisdom of and intelligence of billions of people on this planet and in particular to hundreds of thousands of Iranian-Canadians,” said Reza Moridi, Richmond Hill MPP and one of several politicians to speak to the protesters Sunday.
Other speakers at the rainy protest included Oak-Ridges-Markham MPP Dr. Helena Jaczek, Thornhill MPP Gila Martow, Newmarket-Aurora MPP Chris Ballard, York University associate director Dr. Farrokh Zandi and Chief Executive Officer of the B’Nai Brith Canada, Michael Mostyn.
The Islamic society’s decision to pay tribute to the Ayatollah sent shockwaves worldwide via the Internet and international media.
As the protesters chanted in the cold rain and police directed traffic, a slow trickle of cars and school buses filed through the iron gates into the Islamic centre’s 33-acre compound.
“Today, my fellow Canadians, we have gathered here to raise our voices against those people, on the other side of this street, who are praising and celebrating the life of a man who murdered hundreds of thousands of people in our homeland of Iran,” Moridi addressed a sea of flags and umbrellas lining the rural highway.
“Shame on those people who are celebrating a murderer! Shame on those people who call themselves Canadians, but they don’t know Canadian values!”
The protesters, who represented a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds, accused the York Region Islamic Society of luring teenagers to follow Khomeini and ISIS, and they appealed to the Canadian government to intervene.
“We want lawmakers to take steps to prevent young members of the Muslim community to be indoctrinated and brainwashed by this type of propaganda …and to use full force of the law to limit such hateful gatherings in the future, insofar as doing so is consistent with the Charter,” Sharooz said.
According to the society’s website, the facility “provides prayer facilities as well as character building, especially for our youth”.
Invitations to the Khomeini event promised contests with prizes of laptops, cameras and gift cards.
Critics questioned whether the governing regime in Iran provided funding for the event, but Bangash said his centre received donations from “business people”.
The centre has paid tribute to Khomeini in previous years, but protesters said this year’s event served more of a flashpoint because the world is much more aware of dangers of Islamic fundamentalism.
Others claimed that they were photographed from within the society’s walls at a similar demonstration last year, and expressed fear that their speaking out on Canadian soil could imperil relatives still living in Iran.
One woman, who did not reveal her name, said her photograph was shown to a nephew in Iran by authorities and demanded “are you a spy like your aunt?”
A letter signed by 90 high-profile members of the Iranian-Canadian community, addressed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and Green Party leader Elizabeth May, expressed outrage and revulsion.
“We request a strong condemnation of the Islamic Society of York, who have the audacity to organize this event … an insult to humanity and the families of the victims.”
Iranian Kurdish political parties in Canada also released a joint statement condemning the event and its organizer.