Hate speech or 'public service'? Controversy surrounds Steve Bannon's Toronto trip
Published Tuesday, October 30, 2018 12:06PM EDT
Community groups in Toronto are calling for a planned event featuring controversial political figure Steve Bannon to be cancelled.
Bannon, a former advisor to U.S. President Donald Trump and the former chair of right-wing website Breitbart News, is often accused of promoting white nationalist viewpoints.
He is scheduled to appear Friday, with conservative author David Frum, at a Munk Debates public discussion event. The two will be arguing whether the political future of the West is populist, with Bannon arguing in favour and Frum opposed.
People describing themselves as members of an “anti-racist and anti-fascist coalition” of more than 30 community groups held a press conference Tuesday, to call on the organizers to cancel it.
“We are horrified that at the same time of heightened white supremacy, racism, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment, when hate crimes are on the rise … that the Munk debates would invite the poster boy for white supremacy to Toronto,” said Maya Menezes, an organizer with the migrant justice group No One Is Illegal.
Menezes’ group is planning to protest outside the theatre where Bannonis due to appear Friday night.
Several speakers at the press conference attempted to tie Bannon’s rhetoric to various incidents of violence perpetrated by people with apparent bigoted beliefs, including last weekend’s mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., and last year’s deadly shooting at a mosque in Quebec City.
“The hate we are witnessing is serious; in fact it is deadly. Opposing this kind of hate, and the violence it fosters, is not up for debate,” said Rachel Epstein of the United Jewish People’s Order advocacy group.
Organizers of the Munk Debates have said that they believe inviting Bannon to speak is a “public service” allowing people to draw their own conclusions about his ideas.
Canadian politicians demurred when asked Monday, for their thoughts on whether the event should go on as scheduled.
Tourism and Official Languages Minister Mélanie Joly said she does not personally share many of Bannon’s ideals and her government stands against intolerance and hatred, but said it was not her place to offer an opinion on whether the event should be cancelled.
NDP MP Nathan Cullen described Bannon’s rhetoric as “spewing hate and demonizing groups of people,” but stopped short of saying the event should be cancelled.
“I have confidence in Canadians to be able to reject that, as they properly should,” he said.
Maxime Bernier, founder of the People’s Party, said people should have the chance to listen to controversial viewpoints and make up their own minds. He said the timing of the event is unfortunate, but ultimately the decision on whether it should go ahead rests with its organizers.