History’s lessons on dealing with Canada’s neo-Nazi groups

Interesting bit of history regarding a number of anti-Nazi events: the 1965 Allen Gardens riot and the 1933 Christie Pitts clash, and less violent protests during Quebec neo-Nazi Adrien Arcand’s Toronto visit in 1938.

The recommendation not to give neo-Nazis publicity (oxygen), while sound, is unrealistic given competing passions, mainstream and social media coverage:

Beattie [leader of Allen Gardens neo-Nazis] didn’t turn out to be that person, however. Even though he continued to hold rallies in the park, his movement fizzled out, partially because he wasn’t actually all that dynamic or novel, and was—as historian Frank Bialystok points out—a terrible orator. The numbers he led were small, and the best publicity he got was the media coverage and public dismay that such horrific events could be happening in Toronto the Good. Judge Sydney Harris, notes Bialystok, said that if the Jewish community had ignored the neo-Nazis from the outset, the movement would have died.

There was some upside to the Allan Gardens riot; Bialystok argues that, even though the incident is rarely remembered as any kind of turning point, it actually marked the birth of a new collaboration between Jewish communities that were previously divided, roughly according to when they had immigrated—prior to, or after the war. But, today, whether we’re dealing with actual neo-Nazis or merely street-fighting western chauvinists, there are perhaps wiser lessons to be drawn from 100 years of dealing with extremist groups in Toronto. Four thousand people turning up at Allan Gardens in 1965 only amplified the neo-Nazis’ message; 12,000 people showing up at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1938 helped to drown out the hate being spewed at Massey Hall.

It’s not wrong to be concerned about the extremist movements cropping up. But we have to be careful not to give these attention-seekers the megaphone: they’ll only use conflict to amplify their message. The answer, instead, is to drown them out by making broad coalitions and working together towards education, truth and reconciliation, social equality and representative democracy. It worked in 1938—and it can work again.

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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