In response to President Trump’s recent executive order restricting immigration from seven Middle Eastern states and suspending entrance of all refugees to the United States, hundreds gathered outside the American consulate in downtown Toronto on Monday to peacefully protest. The protests later moved to City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square and finally back to the U.S. Consulate. The protest began at 8:00 am and lasted until 12:00 this afternoon.
Many protesters held signs including clever ones like “No Ban, No Bannon” and “History is watching you” to more serious signs referencing Nazi Germany. Various chants were heard throughout the protest such as “no hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here,” “justice for immigrants, freedom for refugees,” and “no ban, no wall, sanctuary for all.” Chants were heard being shouted loudly throughout the crowd—energy was not absent.
On Sunday night, the US State Department sent out a release stating that the US Consulate in Toronto would be closed for the day Monday, and all scheduled appointments would be rescheduled for another day, due to the protest. “The US Consulate will have limited operations and there will be no Visa or American Citizen Services appointments on January 30th, 2017” the release stated.
The release warned that, “Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence”. Giving warning and knowledge to all recipients of the release that there would be uniformed police present during the demonstration.
The protest catalyzed from a Facebook event, “We Support Refugees + Muslims. Peaceful protest at US Consulate”, created by Dave Meslin. The event gathered a over 7,100 interested persons with nearly 4,000 people expected to attend. Meslin writes in the group, “we are acting as allies, and not speaking on behalf of anyone, nor claiming to be a voice for this issue”.
Within the event description Meslin calls for action from anyone believing a compassionate world. York University professor, Kristin Andrews states in reference to being asking about Trump’s new order, “I have never seen anything like this”. Andrews also hopes to see more being done by local MPs to improve immigration standards, “the refugee policies are not great” she adds.
In a news conference held on Sunday, Canadian Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussen, verified that permanent residents of Canada or those US citizens who have a valid Canadian permanent resident card/passport are able to enter Canada and will not be held by American officials when trying to enter Canada.
Hussen also stated in the news conference on Sunday that Canada will provide temporary shelter to those in limbo by the ban. There are currently no known individuals stranded in American airports.
Students and Toronto residents have been sharing links and creating posts, urging their peers to email or send a letter to their local MP to express their concerns with the ban and Canada’s duties in alignment to this. University of Toronto student, and Stranded Editor, Celeste Yim, created a customizable letter that concerns Canada’s actions and involvement with refugees and policies.
The Strand attempted to contact local MP and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, about the efforts being taken to protect refugees, but has yet to receive a response.
The Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement states that: “refugee claimants are required to request refugee protection in the first safe country they arrive in, unless they qualify for an exception to the Agreement.” This law blocks people that could potentially be stranded or turned back at the United States from then trying to settle in Canada. At the protest there was much call for this law to be repealed, and is also stated as a demand in the draft letter mentioned above.
The recent events in Québec City on Sunday, January 29th where 6 members of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Québec City were killed, were mentioned multiple times and there were multiple moments of silence throughout the duration of the protest. Toronto local, Lisa Aikman stated that “we need to raise awareness and create a visual symbol” when being asked about the power of solidarity in moments filled with conflict.
Speakers at the protest included members from a Canadian law firm promising support if protesters are arrested, members of the Toronto Muslim Community, a local Rabbi, a representative from the Ontario Federation of Labourers, and City Councillor Joe Mihevic who exclaimed that “Toronto is a sanctuary city” to the crowd. Protesters were invited up to speak as well.