Gay Toronto Liberal MP Mario Silva has been spending the past year working on the inquiry into anti-Semitism in Canada. Given the recent happenings around Toronto Pride – both with issue of the Marquee Event tourism funding and Queers Against Israeli Apartheid – I though I would get him to weigh in, and I caught up with him after Question Period today.
Q: The funding for Toronto Pride – you’re a Toronto MP. What do the government’s actions say to you?
A: I think it shows lack of vision from the government. Pride is not just a celebration, a coming-together of gays and lesbians, it’s also one of the most profitable events we have in the city. It attracts literally hundreds of thousands of people from not just the GTA, but from across the country and across the world. The hotels are all booked, it’s great for the restaurants, it’s great for business – it is one of the premiere events of the city, so from an economic standpoint, it makes absolutely no sense. We’re very much concerned that an event of that calibre, that is so much a part of the history and the fabric of what makes Toronto so great, is now being handicapped by not having funding from the federal government.
Q: One of the other elements that’s been brought into this – and certain conservative columnists have equated this – is the issue of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid debate going on, and their inclusion in Pride. Some of them are saying that’s one of the reasons why the government didn’t fund them, being as they didn’t want to be associated with groups like these.
A: This is the first time I’ve heard of this, but I would also say that the Pride Committee has handled itself quite appropriately, and both the Pride Committee and city council have raised concerns as well, of politicising the Pride event. The group that came forward last Pride, the Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, did not represent the gay community, and I think they did a disservice to an incredible event that’s taken place in Toronto. There was a lot of concern about their presence there, but I think they have already spoken out against it, so the government must have already taken that into consideration too. I’m not sure that would be the reason given that there has already been vocal opposition to that particular group.
Q: You’ve been studying the issue of anti-Semitism in Canada for the last year or so. Do you think that particular group falls into the groups that are worrying, or is it legitimate dissent?
A: There are always limits to legitimate dissent on everything. You have a situation where people want to be critical of Israel – there’s no problem with that. That’s quite legitimate. If you want to go out there and protest Israel, that’s fine. If you want to go out there and start, what we’ve seen in video footage from one of the members of the gay community, who did a presentation, where there’s people actually yelling Nazi slogans and basically saying that the Jews are responsible for death and murder, and the slaughter of children, using the same language of blood libel that was used historically, then yeah, I’d say that was anti-Semitism. I think you have to draw a line in the sand around anti-Semitism and be clear about what it is. This is what I find very dangerous, and I’ve told many people who are in these groups. I find that these movements that are really blatantly lies about the reality of Israel in calling it an apartheid, they also draw in people who are quite anti-Semitic. If they’re not willing to also go after those individuals and condemn them, then I think they are being complicit as well – that’s a big problem. These movements attract a lot of radical people who may not actually share the mainstream of the views of the group, but because they provide a gathering space and a forum for anti-Semitic views, then I think those people have to be worried – what are they doing, why are they attracting such people? They may say that I’m Semitic, but they have no problem attracting anti-Semitic people to their core.