Thousands in Montreal demonstrated in support of people in Gaza on Saturday, drawing attention to the humanitarian situation and demanding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau call for a ceasefire.
“At what point is it enough? How many civilians? How many children need to die before Justin Trudeau grows a spine and condemns the horrific actions of Israel?” one protestor said.
Police said the demonstration was peaceful and no arrests were reported. The rally was one of many held in more than two dozen Canadian cities on Saturday, including Ottawa and Toronto.
March organizers, the Palestinian Youth Movement, say it is calling for humanitarian aid to be allowed to flow into the territory and for an end to Canada’s support for Israel’s military action against Hamas, which the federal government has designated as a terrorist organization since 2002.
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This comes as Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said late this week that Canadians in Gaza will be allowed to leave in “the coming days” as Israel continues its air and ground assaults in the Hamas-controlled territory following the militant group’s deadly attack a month ago.
Global Affairs Canada says 516 Canadians and their family members are in Gaza and have called on Canada to evacuate.
In a statement, Joly said she spoke with her Israeli counterpart Foreign Affairs Minister Eli Cohen and “received assurances that Canadians and their families will be able to leave Gaza beginning in the coming days.” Federal officials tell Global News that could happen “as early as Sunday.”
Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry has reported that more than 9,440 Palestinians have died since the Oct. 7 militant incursion. Israel claims that attack killed over 1,400 people in southern Israel and resulted in more than 200 hostages being taken into Gaza.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately declared war in response and has launched daily attacks since, stepping up bombardments over the past week and triggering growing global alarm about the lack of food, fuel and other basic supplies for Gaza’s roughly 2.3 million residents.
Several demonstrations in support of Israel and condemning the rise of antisemitism have been held in Montreal over the last few weeks calling for the safe return of the hundreds of hostages. Some expressed their support of a ceasefire, voicing safety concerns for the hostages as Israel intensified its strikes.
“It’s a very legitimate concern,” Consul General of Israel Paul Hirschson said. “We hold Hamas accountable for their safety.”
Others, however, rejected the call for a suspension of hostilities. Irwin Cotler, former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, told Global News: “We’ve had ceasefires before. The ceasefires have only resulted in Hamas arming themselves.”
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MP Anthony Housefather said the Canadian government hasn’t called for one “because Hamas would never abide by [it]. So essentially it would be asking only Israel to give up its right to respond.”
On Friday, Prime Minister Trudeau was slammed on social media for his response to a reporter at a summit in the U.S. where he appeared to almost call for a ceasefire — something he has faced increasing pressure on.
“We need to see a cease-, we need to see a humanitarian pause so we can flow, we need ceasing of the levels of violence that we’re seeing,” he said. “We need to see civilians protected, we need to see a humanitarian pause to get aid in, to get Canadians out, to get vulnerable people out, to get hostages released. These are the things that the people around the world are looking for.”
A petition with over 120,000 signatures from Canadians and dozens of MPs has urged Trudeau to plead for a ceasefire and the creation of a humanitarian corridor.
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According to the 2021 Census profile of the City of Montreal (not including the Greater Montreal’s suburbs), 159,435 of the city’s 1,762,949 population identified themselves as Middle Eastern.
The Census data of that same year reported there were 690,000 Canadians, or 1.9 per cent, who claimed Arab ancestry (including Israel). The 2016 Census reported 44,820 Canadians claimed Palestinian ancestry.
According to the CJA Federation, Montreal’s Jewish population is more than 90,000. The 2021 Census reported that nearly one-half of Canada’s Jewish population lived in Toronto and about one-quarter in Montreal.
— with files from The Canadian Press
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