Hundreds of people bound for a Jewish rally in Ottawa were stranded in Toronto Monday after 17 buses failed to turn up, a situation that rally organizers said was an act of antisemitism.
About 900 people headed for the rally against antisemitism and in support of Israel were left without transport after a bus company’s subcontractor, which had been paid in advance, failed to send the buses to the pickup point and then declined to answer calls.
Sara Lefton, chief development officer at the United Jewish Appeal, said hundreds of people who were supposed to be on the buses – including many children – stood in a parking lot for an hour from 6:45 a.m. while waiting for alternative transportation to arrive.
“We are presuming this is because we are Jews,” she said.
Iddo Moed, the Israeli ambassador to Canada, told The Globe and Mail that if the buses had not been sent deliberately, it was “very petty” and showed “they don’t understand what this rally is about.”
“It’s not against anything. It’s for the Jewish people supporting each other in times of trouble,” he said. “It’s combatting antisemitism, which has taken new forms in recent times.”
The rally on Parliament Hill, attended by more than 10,000 people, many of them draped in the Israeli flag, included speeches by Mr. Moed, Auschwitz survivor Nate Leipciger, MPs and relatives of people killed in the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas, or held hostage in Gaza.
Many in the crowd carried “free the hostages” and “bring them home” signs, as well as handmade placards reading “Jewish Lives Matter” and “stop antisemitism now – be kind.”
The rally had a heavy police presence, and featured a tiny peaceful counterprotest that included a woman with a “ceasefire now” placard, two or three people waving Palestinian flags, and a group of ultraorthodox Jews opposed to Zionism.
Among those who made it to the rally from Toronto was Rachel O’Donnell, who created a sign reading “3000 years on, we still cry ‘let my people go’” in reference to the hostages.
Gabriella Goliger, national chair of Canadian Friends of Peace Now, held a handmade sign saying “no to antisemitism and Islamophobia.” She said it was “totally unacceptable in Canada for people to have to hide their identities.”
Some of the Toronto contingent ended up being transported to the Ottawa rally in SUV limousines, provided by the main transportation company after its subcontractor let them down.
Jordana Schafer was among those to arrive in a substitute SUV limousine. She said she was “really upset” that the buses didn’t turn up but said “it motivated us more to get here.”
Ms. Lefton, of the United Jewish Appeal, said the bus company had failed to contact them or answer calls to explain why the 17 buses had not arrived. When The Globe tried to call the subcontractor for comment, its phone number appeared not to be operational.
Adam Minsky, president and CEO of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, said in a statement that the subcontractor would now face legal action.
“Given the absolute silence of the subcontractor and with no other explanation, we are driven to the view that this shameful decision is intended to disrupt our peaceful rally out of hatred toward Jews,” he said.
“Just last month, we saw a similar situation take place where antisemitic activists refused to drive Jewish Americans leaving a rally in Washington, D.C.”
Former Conservative senator Linda Frum said it was “an obvious act of Jew hatred.”
Larry Weinstein, the brother of Judi Weinstein Haggai, the last Canadian believed to be held in Gaza, and Ali Weinstein, her niece, were among the family of hostages to address the rally.
Ms. Weinstein Haggai, 70, a retired teacher from Toronto who taught mindfulness at Kibbutz Nir Oz, was shot in the arm and face while out on an early morning walk with her husband, Gad Haggai, who was shot and killed.
Her family do not know if Ms. Weinstein Haggai is alive. When her brother described how her family is desperate for news of her, the crowd broke into chants of “bring her home.”
Mr. Weinstein said in an interview that her abduction is taking a terrible toll on his family. “We think we’ve got it together and then we start crying,” he told The Globe.
Maureen Leshem, the Canadian cousin of 23-year-old Israeli hostage Romi Gonen, who was abducted by Hamas fighters while attending a music festival, drew cheers when she said a released hostage had told her family that she is alive. But she said she has been shot and needs “immediate medical attention” and said the International Red Cross needs to visit her.
Conservative deputy leader Melissa Lantsman told the rally “this isn’t over until the 137 hostages come home,” and until those targeting Jewish schools, businesses and synagogues in Canada are “behind bars.”
“It’s not over until the professors and the university administrators who wrap themselves in woke progressive ideology, who have created an environment where Jewish students feel unsafe, are fired for standing with terrorism rather than civilization,” she added.
Mr. Leipciger, the 95-year-old Auschwitz survivor, braved the freezing temperatures and snow to give a stirring speech, where he described how learning of the Oct. 7 attacks had made him recall the horror of the Holocaust.