Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Toronto on Saturday chanting and waving green, white and red flags in a show of solidarity with continuing anti-government demonstrations in Iran, which were sparked by a young woman’s death in police custody last month.
Large crowds gathered at Queen’s Park before making their way toward Toronto City Hall, as throngs of people chanted “justice for Iran” and “women, life, freedom” loud enough to be heard several blocks away.
Tens of thousands of protesters also marched in European and American cities on Saturday in what was the latest show of international support after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16. Ms. Amini died after being detained by the country’s morality police over her “inappropriate attire,” claiming that her headscarf, or hijab, was too loose.
The incident ignited weeks of deadly demonstrations in Iran, where demands range from more freedom to a revolution in the Islamic Republic. Iranian security forces have dispersed gatherings with live ammunition and tear gas, leaving more than 200 people dead, according to human-rights groups.
In Toronto, several downtown streets were shut down and police were on standby as the large crowd moved through the city centre.
Rod Mehrtash, one of several organizers of the protest, which is headed by the group, Lovers of Iran, said the goal of Saturday’s event was to shine a spotlight on human-rights violations in the Middle Eastern country.
“All we’re trying to do is to echo their voice and to get the world community to understand the atrocities that are happening inside the country,” he said.
Mr. Mehrtash said Canada’s recent move to permanently bar 10,000 members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the country, which affects its top 50 per cent, was “a good beginning,” but said that “much more” needs to be done.
He called on Ottawa to identify members of the IRGC who had immigrated to Canada and asked they be brought “to a court of justice.”
Banafshesh Cheraghi, 28, marched as she held a large white banner with five friends that said “women. life. freedom.” She said she was at the demonstration to echo the voice of protesters in Iran.
“It’s not a protest anymore, it’s a revolution. We’re here for them to say we support them,” she said.
Ms. Cheraghi called on Canadians to help and “keep echoing their voice with us,” adding that they can help put pressure on the federal government to place additional sanctions on members of the Iranian leadership. Ottawa added 20 Iranian officials and entities to its sanctions list earlier this month, preventing them from entering or doing business with Canada.
Roofia Rahbar, 33, who joined the Toronto rally, said she wanted to see the resignation of the government and police in Iran. She said her message to the Iran’s leadership as a protester was that “it’s too late now, we just want them to go.”
Ms. Rahbar, who, like Mr. Mehrtash and Ms. Cheraghi, is Iranian-Canadian, said she felt it was important for the people of Iran to feel supported by the diaspora around the world: “We are not the regime,” she said.
Meanwhile, the National Council of Canadian Muslims said the unrest in Iran has led to a rise in Islamophobic attacks and online hate that are misdirecting blame onto the general Muslim public.
Stephen Brown, chief executive officer of the NCCM, said there were cases of hijab-wearing women being threatened and assaulted, even though the women themselves had participated in the protests against the Iranian government.
“Ever since the killing of Mahsa Amini, what we’ve seen is a spike of Islamophobic incidents in Canada,” Mr. Brown said.
“People who are angry with the government in Iran are taking it out on Canadian citizens that are Muslims here.”
Mr. Brown said there had also been at least two Islamophobic protests at the Imam Mahdi Islamic Centre in Thornhill, Ont., where dozens have harassed and threatened worshippers as they headed into the mosque.
He said congregants were concerned about yet another protest planned at the mosque later this month, even though the facility has been clear that it has no relationship at all with the Iranian government.
“It’s really important for people to understand that being a practising Muslim doesn’t mean that you support the government of Iran.”