Our voices will not be silenced

Afghan-Canadian women settle lawsuit with the Toronto Sun

Editors' Note: In November 2012, Afghan-Canadians Laila Rashidie and Suraia Sahar found themselves at the centre of a media storm led by right-wing commentators. After what they were subjected to on air, online and in print, they decided to fight back. The following is an exclusive update from Rashidie and Sahar about their case.

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Taliban supporters. Jihadists. Islamists.

These criminalizing and Islamophobic accusations have been used against post-9/11 peace activists opposed to the US-led NATO war and invasion of Afghanistan. It’s a deliberate tactic for political repression and censorship that prevents an honest dialogue on the so-called War on Terror.

We proudly held a banner in opposition to Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan.

A year and a half ago on Remembrance Day we, as two Muslim Afghan women peace activists, proudly held a banner in opposition to Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan at Toronto’s Old City Hall. At the time, it was the eleventh year of the ongoing war and occupation that has left tens of thousands of Afghan civilians killed.

Laila Rashidie and Suraia Sahar standing in front of the war memorial at Old City Hall in Toronto.

We later explained our motive. Sun Media and Tarek Fatah, Toronto Sun columnist, picked up the story and, after we repeatedly ignored and refused requests for an interview, the terms “Taliban supporters,” “Jihadists” and “Islamists” were used in stories about us.

This led us to file a defamation lawsuit with our lawyers Jeff Carolin and Peter Rosenthal.

The lawsuit was settled out of court this past June. All details of the settlement are confidential except the release of Sun Media’s “statement issued on settlement of litigation” to us:

“A column published in The Sun on November 14, 2012, and an interview that same day on Sun News expressed opinions of Tarek Fatah about a demonstration by the two of you during the November 11, 2012 Remembrance Day Service at Old City Hall, Toronto.

“We acknowledge that your shouts of protest did not occur during the Service’s two-minutes of silence honouring the deaths of members of Canada’s military but only after the police took your banner. As well, you have represented to us that neither of you are Taliban supporters, Islamists or Jihadis, and we accept your word on this.”

Rashidie and Sahar with lawyers Jeff Carolin and Peter Rosenthal at the Superior Court of Justice.

We are happy with the settlement that our lawyers have achieved for us.

Last summer, a co-host of the Dean Blundell radio show on Toronto’s 102.1 The Edge was also held accountable by the CRTC for advocating violence against us, after a protester from a separate contingent was physically assaulted by two male memorial attendees. The co-host was removed from the show, and this past winter the show was cancelled.

We hope this achievement sets an example and makes it easier for the ongoing dissent against NATO wars.

We would like to thank all of our supporters for their help during a year in which we have had to endure cyber harassment and stalking. We hope this achievement sets an example and makes it easier for the ongoing dissent against NATO wars.

Praising the Canadian Armed Forces for “fighting for our rights” and “liberating Afghan women” while censoring our political dissent as both Canadians and Afghan women is grossly hypocritical. It’s part of the sad reality that the use of racism and fear is how war is being justified.

For every Remembrance Day and memorial for the Canadian Armed Forces, we will remember and honour the innocent lives lost and destroyed in Afghanistan at the hands of the NATO-led occupation. And our voices will not be silenced.

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