Hundreds of people gathered at Toronto's City Hall at this morning to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's recent immigration and refugee ban and stand in solidarity with the victims of yesterday evening's attack in Quebec City. A similar action at the U.S. consulate in Montreal took place later in the afternoon.
After a short rally outside of Toronto's City Hall, several hundred protesters marched north on University Avenue and gathered outside of the U.S. consulate, spilling over into the street and blocking traffic. Protestors chanted "no hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here," "no ban on stolen land" and voiced outrage at the Quebec City shooting, which left six dead and 19 injured on Sunday evening at a mosque in Ste-Foy.
The Toronto demonstration was organized by Dave Meslin over the weekend in response to President Trump's executive order, which suspends the U.S.'s Syrian refugee resettlement program indefinitely and bans entry to the U.S. for immigrants and travellers from seven majority-Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) for 90 days.
The order was met with protests and demonstrations at airports and government buildings across the world, and as the legal battle against the ban ramps up, federal judges in New York and Virginia ordered stays on the deportations for people with valid visas.
In Canada, activists quickly responded to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's series of tweets touting Canada's tolerance and diversity by demanding Canada repeal the Safe Third Country agreement. The Safe Third Country agreement, a law that prohibits asylum seekers from entering Canada if they first landed in the United States, effectively prevents Canada from making good on Trudeau's promise of a safe haven to refugees and asylum seekers. Several protesters outside Toronto's U.S. consulate touted signs that read "repeal Safe Third Country agreement now!"
Lily Rafizadeh, a co-organizer of the Montreal demonstration outside the U.S. consulate, explained to Nasty Women's Press in a Facebook message that "a lot of Canadians have a sort of superiority complex, an idea that we're better, more inclusive, more comfortable in diversity, less violent, less discriminatory than America and other countries."
But as last night's shooting in Quebec City demonstrates, racism and xenophobia do not stop south of the border. "The reality is that Canada was built on the same kind of colonial violence as America, and the same kind of racism and fascism that are on the rise elsewhere are alive and well here too," Rafizadeh noted.
For Rafizadeh, the actions at US consulates in Toronto and Montreal represent not just a rejection of Trump's executive order, but a reckoning with how Islamophobia and violence operate in a Canadian context. "We might be a relatively small group of people here today, but direct action is important to remind Canadian citizens to be introspective and reject the narratives of Canadian exceptionalism," Rafizadeh said.
In the wake of the U.S. elections, Canadian political engagement and direct action has become ever more crucial, and no longer just as a means of rejecting the Trump administration's international shockwaves. As we grapple with the horror of yesterday's Quebec City shooting and as the Conservative leadership race heats up, Canadians must voice their full-throttled opposition to homegrown xenophobic policies and legislation. Call your MPs, support community organizations and social movements on the frontlines, and show up to direct actions. Let's do this right.
Sophia Reuss is a freelance writer and rabble rouser based in Tkaronto.