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More than 3,000 people gathered in Toronto on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010, to show opposition to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's move to suspend Parliament until early March. (CHRIS YOUNG)
More than 3,000 people gathered in Toronto on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010, to show opposition to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's move to suspend Parliament until early March. (CHRIS YOUNG)

Thousands protest prorogued Parliament Add to ...

In a display that was anything but apathetic, thousands of Canadians of varying political stripes clogged city streets across Canada demanding Prime Minister Stephen Harper reopen Parliament and get back to work.

Hordes of protesters crammed Toronto's downtown square, cradling signs denouncing the Prime Minister's decision to suspend Parliament until early March.

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More than 3,000 people closed down a busy section of Yonge Street to sing, march and chant anti-Harper slogans.

"These demonstrations that are happening all over the country are Canadians' way of saying 'you are wrong, you are completely wrong about us. You pushed us, you pushed us and now we're mad," said an impassioned Andrea Dale, 46, who works in the financial sector.

Video from the downtown Toronto rally at Yonge-Dundas Square

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A more subdued Jason Young, 36, stood quietly besides the chanting protesters. He said he was not a partisan person, but had begun to resent Mr. Harper's interpretation of democracy.

"I hope there are a lot of people who would identify themselves as conservatives here today, because all Canadians should be concerned about this," he said.

Mr. Young said Mr. Harper has underestimated the feelings of the electorate and the power of social media, referencing the daily membership increase to the anti-prorogation group on Facebook.

Families also filled up most of the square. Amir Ghorvei, 11, was at the rally with his mother and wore a colourful sign slung around his neck, which read "Can I prorogue cleaning my room?"

"I think it's not very fair that he gets to stop democracy because he doesn't want to answer some questions," said Amir.

Another small group had their own dramatic interpretation of the suspension of Parliament. Several pallbearers dressed in black walked behind a bag piper and carried a coffin with poster of parliament inside, hoisting a sign that read "democracy is dead."

Anti-prorogation protesters gather outside the C.D. Howe Institute in Toronto, where Prime Minister Harper attended a roundtable meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010.
Did you go to a rally? Send us your pics: Prorogation protests

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Thousands also turned up on the lawn of Parliament Hill in Ottawa for a festive atmosphere, but the mood quickly turned partisan.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and NDP Leader Jack Layton offered up lively speeches that blasted Mr. Harper's decision to shut down the House of Commons.

"Mr. Harper unlock these doors," Mr. Layton told the crowd. "Mr. Harper unlock the doors of the people's house it's not your house."

Mr. Layton told the crowd the NDP favours the creation of a new law that would prevent the Prime Minister from proroguing Parliament unless he had the support of the majority of the House of Commons.

"My fellow Canadians, we say to Mr. Harper, it's not too late to recall Parliament. It's prorogued, but you can call us back to work simply by picking up the phone and calling the Governor-General," Mr. Layton said.

The NDP leader said the prorogued Parliament has stalled important legislation on pensions, stifled debate on the war in Afghanistan and shut down all discussion of the way forward on tackling climate change.

Mr. Ignatieff said Liberal MPs planned to return to work on Parliament Hill, as scheduled, on Monday morning.

"This is a demonstration that shows that Canadians understand their democracy, care for their democracy and if necessary, will fight for their democracy," Mr. Ignatieff told the crowd, drawing a loud roar from the crowd.

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In Montreal, hundreds stood in the streets and listened as speakers discussed the international response to the democracy debate in Canada.

"We no longer want to be the laughing stock that gets told by The Economist that we don't know how to run a democracy," university professor Daniel Weinstock told the cheering crowd, recalling a recent article in the British journal critical of the suspension of Canada's Parliament.

Canadian, Quebec and sovereingist flags flapped behind Prof. Weinstock as he spoke. Behind him stood Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe, Liberal MPs Marc Garneau and Justin Trudeau, and Green Party deputy Jacques Rivard.

Former Nova Scotia NDP leader Robert Chisholm was at a rally in Halifax, which attracted roughly 500.

"I feel what the prime minister has done by closing the House … he's shutting down democracy and that's wrong," Mr. Chisholm said in an interview as the rally began.

In Edmonton, about 250 people stood in -7 temperatures and ankle-deep snow in a park just off a popular shopping street to make their point, many chanting "Yes to perogies, no to prorogation!"

But if their slogans were tongue-in-cheek, their intent was serious.

"I came to Canada to escape dictatorship," said Massoud Hasson, 66, an immigrant from Pakistan who was attending his first public rally.

"This prorogation smacks of dictatorship. This is the first time I have not felt proud to be Canadian. This is awful."

Grassroots organizers in Vancouver passed out hand-painted signs and buttons to more than 600 people who bopped to the beat of a funk band playing next to the Olympic countdown clock before marching through the city.

Kathleen Glynn-Morris said she's embarrassed by a government that seems to be using the upcoming Games as an excuse.

"I think it's nonsense. They're public servants. We pay for them to do a job," she said. "The rest of us can't say 'Oh well, now the Olympics are here people aren't interested in our job, what we're doing.' "

Meanwhile, Mr. Harper has brushed off the anti-prorogation protests. He offered his response at the Ottawa headquarters of the Department of Foreign Affairs on Saturday.

Mr. Harper said the government is urgently trying to craft an agenda for the March 3 resumption of Parliament while dealing with the "life and death issues" of the Haiti earthquake.

With files from Derrick Toth, Tamsyn Burgmann, Robert Weber, Mike Blanchfield and Jessica Murphy

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