I trigger people on all sides of the political spectrum.
It’s not my raison d’être, just a hazard of the lottery of birth. Existing as an intelligent, brown Muslim woman lawyer who loudly expresses political opinions has consequences—I have suffered assault, stalking, harassment, and even arrest for asserting my right to speak and take up space.
In essence, I am a storyteller. I recount my real-life observations with words and images to highlight absurdities in our sick, sad world. I tap into the power of art and humor to transcend differences. I present information in a way that people can relate to and engage with. If you’ve watched the news (any channel) or used Twitter over the past year, there’s a decent chance you have seen my work. I get around.
My focus has been on the rise of right-wing populism in Canada throughout the pandemic. I attend parades, rallies, and protests to document whatever piques my interest. Although I draw inspiration from wrestling culture, nothing filmed on the ground is staged. We just hit record and let the scene play out for itself.
People have a funny habit of exposing their true selves on their own. But not everyone enjoys seeing their reflection, mainly when someone like me holds up the mirror.
The far-right is rising, rapidly.
Yet semi-prominent Toronto activists are hung up on an (anti-fascist) event that never happened, as if that’s somehow the most important thing over the past twelve months.
My mom would like a word: pic.twitter.com/Zh50U0YyzW
— Caryma Sa'd – Lawyer + Political Satirist (@CarymaRules) July 11, 2022
I decompress by hanging out in parks.
I like to sit, smoke, and watch the world go by. Among my regular neighborhood destinations is Clarence Square Park, which recently made headlines for encampment clearings. Here’s the scoop: I stumbled upon a group of activists that set up fake tents and put their housed members in them, seemingly trying to incite conflict with the city.
On June 12, 2022, Encampment Support Network Parkdale (ESN Parkdale) posted on social media about a “brutal and unexpected raid” at Clarence Square. CBC News reported ten structures in the park, and eight tents were cleared. According to city officials, the eight tents were unoccupied, and only four people lived in the park.
An unnamed advocate disputed this claim. Half the tents were replaced within hours—a bit too quickly to be organic resettlement.
On the night of June 14, at approximately 9:53 PM, I was smoking a joint on the bench with my back to the encampment. A man abruptly appeared behind me, demanding I leave the park. He purported to speak on behalf of the residents, claiming I was bothering them with my presence. I stayed put, but the encounter left me uneasy. Apart from his veiled threats about knowing who I am, where I live, and what “games” I play, there was an unsettling sense of déjà vu.
“You’ve had no harassment at your home.”
(It’s unclear how I was harassing people simply by existing.)
part 2 of 2 pic.twitter.com/O8odj9MmUz
— Caryma Sa’d – Lawyer + Political Satirist (@CarymaRules) June 16, 2022
It wasn’t until a few hours later that it hit me. I recognized the menacing tone and inflection because the same man tried intimidating me from a different park several months ago. And I remembered his outfit from a CP24 broadcast earlier in the day, where he presented himself as homeless and used a false name.
I do agree with Neven that the solution to homelessness is housing, not policing. pic.twitter.com/MCbrP9SkE1
— Caryma Sa'd – Lawyer + Political Satirist (@CarymaRules) June 16, 2022
The man in question is Neven Perić.
I first came across Perić while documenting anti-vaccine protests in 2021. I spent July and August covering demonstrations outside Bar Vendetta. Several weeks of documenting this scene resulted in mainstream media coverage, reactions from Dan Levy and Barry Jenkins, and increased public pressure on police.
This is INSANE — my friend @TheBlackHoof has had to deal with WEEKS of these #antivaxx agitators at her restaurant Bar Vendetta (which has been through hell trying to weather the pandemic). Toronto, tell @JohnTory to DO SOMETHING!!! This ain’t lawful nor peaceful! https://t.co/GFUWU2GYu2
— Barry Jenkins (@BarryJenkins) August 22, 2021
Towards the end of August, Perić showed up at Bar Vendetta as a counter-protester, accompanied by former Proud Boy Josh Chernofsky. The pair sought to frighten my cameraman and me on several occasions, including physical aggression and trying to sic protesters on us. Their harassment continued in September, with Perić and Chernofsky accosting me at Hospital Row and Toronto Police Headquarters, respectively. The details of these encounters are best left for my next story.
What a difference a year makes.
Last August, Neven was suited up and buying rounds for strangers at a pricey restaurant.
That’s “former” far-right racist Josh Chernofsky (CaptCanuck6) at the same table. pic.twitter.com/ReF5ZMtt0I
— Caryma Sa’d – Lawyer + Political Satirist (@CarymaRules) June 16, 2022
On September 30, 2021, I attended the Toronto Unity Jam Concert at Dufferin Grove Park. I was an audience member with no intention of documenting the event. It had been a rough couple of months for me, and I was lamenting the end of summer and what felt like the ruin of my reputation. There was a clash between the bravado of my online persona and a heavy, crushing sense of vulnerability. I had just become aware of an anonymous Twitter account ostensibly repurposed to track down my home and spread defamatory statements about my cameraman and me. We were being characterized as dangerous fascists, with the smear targeted towards a group of people who consider themselves to be virulently anti-fascist and exempt from the rule of law. The sock account was soliciting information about our residence. A day-old tweet claimed, “we are verifying potential location information now,” and those words were ringing in my head. Who are we? For what purpose? I had many questions and no answers, so I wanted to get lost in music at an outdoor concert.
Perić, who I did not know was also at the event, crept up behind me and sneered, “Have you run out of fash events to cover?” He was halfway towards the washrooms by the time the comment registered. I felt scared and intruded upon. I did not react outwardly, even though it’s my nature to argue back. I settled down after a few minutes, only for Perić to sneak behind me again. This time he said, “We know where you live.”
I will admit, I fucking lost it. I rarely lose composure in public, but I snapped. When Perić strode off, I followed him and pressed for clarification. He refused to elaborate.
I rarely lose my composure in public, but I did last September at Dufferin Grove Park.
“We know where you live” is difficult to interpret as an innocent remark when it comes from a stranger.
— Caryma Sa’d – Lawyer + Political Satirist (@CarymaRules) June 15, 2022
This incident was a turning point. I was scared before, and now the fear was overwhelming. Within two weeks, I packed up my apartment, terminated my lease, and relocated to a town four hours away.
I also applied for a peace bond. This, too, is a story on its own.
I returned to Toronto at the end of March 2022, nearly six months later. The convoy/occupation in Ottawa validated my sense of purpose in covering the fringe right, even as I endured vilification by the fringe left. Life gave me a crash course in distinguishing between genuine feedback and bad faith criticism. I learned that operating in the public eye as a private citizen is only sustainable if one relies on intrinsic motivation. The time away helped me reflect on my aspirations and, more importantly, my values. These values are the anchor that saves me from drifting too far into turbulent and choppy waters.
Late on May 24, 2022, ESN Parkdale published an urgent media alert for a press conference at Clarence Square early the following day. They said the Tiny Shelter resident was facing imminent arrest by Toronto Police for trumped-up reasons. This seemed like an event worth documenting, especially with a municipal election coming up. My interest in the affordable housing crisis is professional, and I care in my capacity as a concerned resident.
When I arrived at Clarence Square on May 25, I spotted a man with a hoodie, sunglasses, and mask obscuring his entire face. His jerky, paranoid movements reminded me of Josh Chernofsky. He was standing next to Gisela McKay, one of my most prolific online harassers. The sketchy man and McKay were wearing orange hats, which is the Movement Defence Committee uniform. McKay identifies herself as a Legal Observer (Coordinator).
I have no problem getting into the thick of it at fringe right rallies, but different circumstances require a tailored approach. I kept a healthy distance and filmed a city’s housing policies promo. In the background, Gisela McKay got agitated and flipped me the middle finger. The sketchy man followed suit. A few other activists or residents joined in to swear and jeer. I felt unsafe at the moment and left.
This minor incident did not prevent me from attending Clarence Square as usual. I continued to sit in the fountain area near the dog park. I did not have any contact with residents or activists until June 14. About five minutes after Perić accosted me, I was approached by Tiny Shelter resident Jordan Scum. I didn’t sense any malice, just frustration. Nothing I say should be read as an indictment of Jordn, who has done me no harm.
Right after Neven Perić told me to leave Clarence Square on June 14, 2022, I was approached by encampment resident Jordn Scum.
This is the type of thing I worried about when I applied for a peace bond: my harassers using innocent third parties as a proxy by poisoning the well. https://t.co/RrWh7SoW1l pic.twitter.com/Jy77TRTsAD
— Caryma Sa’d – Lawyer + Political Satirist (@CarymaRules) June 17, 2022
I worried about this type of interaction when I applied for a peace bond: my harassers using innocent third parties as a proxy by poisoning the well. Jordn may have reached his conclusions independently and wouldn’t be the first person to dislike me based on my persona. But his grievance reflects the prejudicial talking points about me that Gisela McKay disseminates on Twitter. Jordan’s perception of my tweets doesn’t match my actual words. Again, he wouldn’t be the first.
One of my career’s earliest and most challenging lessons was that I couldn’t be everything to everyone. Indeed, I was not at the park to help Jordn, but I never pretended otherwise. My community lawyering happens offline primarily.
There was one thing that stood out to me from what Jordn said, partly what prompted me to dig deeper and write this article: “I was the only person in this park for fucking two years. And do you know why these [gestures towards tents] has shown up? Because of fucking idiots like you.”
On July 21, 2022, I was informed that Gisela McKay posted photos of a flyer depicting me, my cameraman, and Ron Banerjee under the heading “People to watch for.” The accompanying tweet indicated the pamphlet had been passed out by a white person at two events McKay attended that day. I have since been advised the flyers came from ESN Parkdale. I did not reach out to the group for comment.
The defamatory blurb beside my picture portrayed me as vengeful and dangerous and falsely accused me of collaborating with “right-wing agitators” to identify community activists. The flyer said I “may try to interview participants or stand nearby taking selfies.” Under the heading “What to do if you see them,” the first bullet point said, “Please let organizers know of their presence immediately.”
A decade ago, I inflicted vicarious trauma upon myself by writing a major research paper about the relationship between Hindutva rhetoric and sexual violence against Muslim women during the Gujarat pogrom. The mere fact of including me on a flyer with Ron Banerjee was offensive in and of itself since it strongly implied that we work together to achieve common political goals. The Hindu nationalist worldview espoused by Banerjee does not leave any space for brown Muslim women to express political opinions loudly. I understand how dangerous hate can be, so I am averse to indulging that feeling under any circumstance. That people misread my coexistence with Banerjee as a nefarious alliance demonstrates bad faith on their part, not mine.
One of the strangest “anti-hate” rumours about me is that I am besties with Ron Banerjee.
No. We are not friends, but *have* learned to coexist.
— Caryma Sa’d – Lawyer + Political Satirist (@CarymaRules) April 19, 2022
As I’ve said elsewhere, how I choose to navigate sharing physical space with a man whose politics call for extinguishing Muslim women is not up for debate. And if I can move that needle even a tiny bit, I will try. That’s my prerogative.
The defamatory flyer elicited that sinking feeling I remember from Dufferin Grove Park. This was another instance of online harassment crossing into the real world. It further validated the concern I expressed in my peace bond application about the deliberate incitement of harassment against me. It was both a relief and worry to know that I was not imagining things.
I did not reach a conclusion about decoy tents entirely on my own, by the way. I was a bit skeptical that, within a year, Perić went from buying rounds for strangers at Bar Vendetta to giving an on-camera interview while living in an encampment. But I know from experience how thin the social safety net can be and that most of us are closer to poverty than we might think. It was not until I spoke with three independent sources that I determined my hunch was correct.
Once I realized Perić was posing as a homeless person, I could not shake the feeling that Jordn was being used as a prop. Two of my sources also confirmed this, expressing disgust at the lack of ethics. ESN Parkdale was described as exploiting vulnerable people to promote their simplistic and superficial political interests. There was speculation they wanted to incite another “eviction” for the press and to show the city in a bad light. I learned about other examples of evil behavior, including leveraging Indigenous identity as political capital and inciting people to get arrested without explaining the consequences. Activists are responsible for making strategic decisions that minimize harm rather than put people at risk. It’s not about roleplaying as “heroes” against the system.
There’s more to uncover about ESN Parkdale. I have questions about the leadership and accountability structure. I have questions about the group’s name since Encampment Support Network is no more. Apparently, the parent network disbanded due to toxicity within the pool of activists. This is likely a story for someone else to pursue.
Two of my sources confirmed that Perić no longer attends Clarence Square. Whether he was booted from ESN Parkdale for blowing his cover, I cannot say.
People are not meant to be pawns.
My approach to coverage allows for independent and hopefully critical thinking. It requires placing trust or even faith in less-than-perfect humans to figure things out. Yes, such reliance can backfire. But it can also have unexpectedly pleasant and rewarding outcomes.
Most of my content deals with the fringe right. My speaking out about the fringe left should not be interpreted as equivalency of any sort. Instead, I am drawing parallels where appropriate because understanding the overlap might help us identify and reject extremism in any form.
Values that matter at the end of the day: “Who you are and what you do is the same thing.”
I anticipate facing criticism for shining a light on this subject, including accusations of bullying and doxing. I say, don’t speak my name if you don’t want me to speak yours. I will expound my thoughts on anonymity and activism elsewhere, but for now, sit with this quote from Anne Lamott: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
I will tell my story, and I will tell it damn well.