Large crowds turned out for competing demonstrations on Parliament Hill on Sunday, with hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators first filling the lawn in front of the Centennial Flame and then, a few hours later, hundreds of others gathering to show their support for Israel.
Members of the Parliamentary Protective Service were stationed along the perimeter of the lawn and in front of fences placed in front of the West Block to keep the crowds away from the House of Commons. On the streets adjacent to Parliament Hill, a heavy Ottawa Police presence assembled, with at least seven public-order unit vans in addition to marked police cars, bylaw officers, paramedics and fire officials.
The pro-Palestinian rally was one of several rallies across Canada this weekend, from Victoria to Halifax. Police reported only minor incidents. Forces from across the country have been on alert for clashes since Hamas’s terrorist attack on Israel.
This weekend, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly told a briefing that Israel’s air strikes in response to Hamas’s attack, coupled with its blockade of Gaza’s supplies of food, water, fuel and medicine, have created a humanitarian disaster.
The morning march in Ottawa was organized by two local Palestinian groups to call for an end to Israel’s bombing of Gaza and the country’s siege of the tiny territory. The crowd chanted, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” Many of the demonstrators equate this phrase with freeing their people from Israel’s oppression, but critics argue it is a dog whistle advocating the eradication of Israel. The chant’s presence at rallies in Europe over the past week has in part led some governments to ban demonstrations.
“Western governments have come out with unequivocal support for the state of Israel without at all criticizing their actions against the Palestinians,” said Bassem Shama, who showed up to Parliament Hill on Sunday with his wife and two children. “At the very least, [we want an] immediate ceasefire allowing the blockade to be opened, food, water, electricity and medical aid to enter the Gazan territories immediately, and for the people who fled their homes to return home.”
There were rolling road closings in Ottawa as the massive protest began on Parliament Hill and then marched through the downtown. The closings continued later Sunday as demonstrators in support of Israel marched from City Hall to Parliament Hill.
The later event was billed by organizers as a peace rally and, once on the Hill, the group clapped and sang Am Yisrael Chai – meaning the people of Israel live. They also chanted “bring them home” as they held photos of some of the 155 hostages that the Israeli government says Hamas militants abducted during the attack more than a week ago.
Ottawa resident Mordechai Edery, whose sisters, brother and parents still live in Israel, said he showed up to voice his support for Israel eliminating Hamas, which he said is holding Gazans hostage.
“We want everybody to live in peace, but Hamas is currently threatening not just local peace but world peace,” Mr. Edery said at the rally.
The federal government has designated Hamas a terrorist group.
During the pro-Israel demonstration, officers with the Parliamentary Protective Service surrounded two pro-Palestinian protesters wearing keffiyeh scarves and asked them to leave the Hill or they would be arrested. The protesters declined to share their names with The Globe and Mail and the protective service did not reply to requests from The Globe to explain why the two were removed.
A day earlier in Montreal, hundreds of protesters marched to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s constituency office to call on him to denounce an expected ground incursion into northern Gaza by the Israeli army. (Thousands demonstrated outside the Israeli consulate in that city’s downtown on Friday.)
Also on Saturday, more than 1,000 people demonstrated in Mississauga to support Palestinians peacefully, according to Constable Sarah Patten, a spokeswoman for Peel Regional Police. At one point, two men pulled up in a truck with purported Taliban flags and were shouted out of the rally by its organizers, she said.
The Calgary Police Service said about 450 peaceful pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered downtown Saturday afternoon and punctuated a march with speeches. Police said they worked closely with event organizers from the Muslim community to plan a “safe and peaceful event that allowed Calgarians to show support for issues that are important to them, while ensuring the safety of the community.”
Across the Rockies, dozens of Vancouver officers oversaw a march of approximately 500 people down Vancouver’s bohemian Commercial Drive in the evening.