On Monday, January 30, Torontonians of all backgrounds joined the resistance.
Hundreds gathered outside of Toronto’s U.S. consulate, huddled against the biting cold with coffees and signs in hand to protest President Trump’s immigration ban, and pay respect to the victims of Sunday’s terrorist attack on a Quebec City mosque.
“The event is now a rally as well as, sadly, a vigil,” organizer Dave Meslin wrote on the Facebook event after the news of the Sunday shooting broke out.
Despite the sombre news and the 8 a.m. start, the crowd—which included everyone from children to seniors, imams to rabbis and at least one clergywoman—came with signs and spirit, chanting “No one is illegal, stop deporting people” and “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here!”
The event was organized after President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Friday barring citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations (Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Yemen) from entering the U.S. for a period of 90 days. The ban also halted the U.S.’s intake of Syrian refugees, and as The Telegraph explains, gives preference to Christian versus Muslim refugees from the Middle East.
“This is targeted racism,” said one woman at the Toronto gathering who did not want to be named. “It has to stop because it’s making the problem bigger.”
The president’s actions resulted in mass protests over the weekend in major U.S. cities including L.A., Boston and New York City, prompting Meslin to take to Facebook and propose a “peaceful shutdown” of the U.S. consulate in Toronto on Monday.
“No speeches, no violence. We just sit down, on the sidewalk, and block both entrances,” he wrote on his personal page on Saturday evening. “Trump’s racism needs a very swift and very firm response, from all of us.”
The response he got on social media was just that—more than 3,000 people clicked “attending” on the Facebook event. In light of the planned demonstration, the U.S. consulate issued a statement on Sunday notifying the public that it would be essentially shutting down its services for Monday.
The statement warned U.S citizens to “avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution.” But, in true Canadian fashion, this crowd was nothing but welcoming—even getting up and parting so that commuters, who were honking in support, could pass through. Similar statements have been released in relation to planned protests at U.S. consulates in Montreal and Ottawa.
On the ground, the message from protestors was one of unity, strength through diversity and respect for those killed in Quebec City. Multiple moments of silence were held to honour the six Muslims killed during their evening prayers at a local mosque.
But protesters were also calling for action.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted a message of support on Saturday saying, “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.” However, speakers at the protest pointed out that a tweet does not make policy, and they would like to see real action from Trudeau, particularly since the due to the “safe third country agreement” Canada is technically unable to take refugees that arrive via the U.S.
The Prime Minister’s Office released a statement on Saturday assuring Canadians that “holders of Canadian passports, including dual citizens, will not be affected by the ban.” Yet, many Canadians remain uneasy.
Shohreh Soltaninia, a close friend of mine, was just one of the reasons I was motivated to attend the protest. Born in Iran, her family moved to Canada in 1998, and she has lived in the GTA ever since. However, due to the birthplace listed on her Canadian passport, she feels uncertain about the future. According to Soltaninia, just because we are north of the border doesn’t mean that Canadians are safe. “We are not immune,” she said. “Hatred fuels hatred.”
The crowd made their voices heard at the U.S. consulate and Toronto City Hall in an effort to remind local and international leaders to take action beyond Twitter. Billboards popped up above the sea of toques (and the occasional pussyhat) with slogans like “Love Trumps Hate” and “The 6ix Supports the Seven”—signs that can be also be used at a second protest to be held next Saturday, February 4, also at Toronto’s U.S. Consulate. In the meantime, don’t forget to write or call your member of Parliament.
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