Canada dispatch: Toronto rally demands Canada support permanent ceasefire in Gaza Dispatches
© JURIST / Pitasanna Shanmugathas
Canada dispatch: Toronto rally demands Canada support permanent ceasefire in Gaza

Pitasanna Shanmugathas is a law student at Vermont Law & Graduate School and a graduate of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. He was at this demonstration over the weekend. 

Ceasefire Now, a coalition of Canadian labor, faith, Arab, Jewish, and civil society organizations advocating for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, held a rally in Toronto Sunday which was joined by more than 1000 demonstrators.  The protestors convened in downtown Toronto and marched through the city’s financial district. In addition to advocating for a permanent ceasefire, the protestors demanded that Canada stop selling arms to Israel and called for the restoration of humanitarian aid to Gaza. This recent protest comes at the heels of the Canadian government’s decision last week to vote in favor of a United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” to bring a halt to Israel’s latest offensive in Gaza.

Toronto-based criminal defense lawyer and community activist Krisna Saravanamuttu spoke to the crowd of enthusiastic demonstrators and asserted “because of the mass activity on the streets, we forced [the Canadian government] just last week to finally come around at least rhetorically, symbolically, at the United Nations to support a ceasefire because of regular people just like you who keep coming out week after week.”

While the demonstrators marched through the city’s financial district, one of the organizers of the protest asserted that many Canadian banks, such as Scotiabank,  are directly complicit in Israel’s atrocities in the Palestinian territories.  The organizer made reference to the fact that Scotiabank invested $500 million into Elbit Systems Ltd, a major Israeli arms manufacturer, which is connected to human rights abuses against Palestinians in the occupied territories. The organizer urged the demonstrators to divest from using the services of Canadian banks which are complicit in Israel’s occupation.

Toronto’s York University Professor Greg Albo, one of the demonstrators who attended Sunday’s rally, told JURIST that he noticed that marchers were part of a “very large-section of Canadians coming out, all ages and all backgrounds…and they are all getting angrier and more disillusioned…It is youth, from younger adults to high school kids, that is driving the struggle ahead here and in the Occupied Territories. The anger and frustration is growing because the Canadian and Western states’ policy toward Palestine and Israel are so hypocritical and two-faced on human rights, on genocidal bombing, on illegal settlements, and so forth.”

But Albo also noted shortcomings in the current protests in Canada aimed at mobilizing greater public support to end the nation’s complicity in Israel’s occupation, telling JURIST that

demonstrations are the symbol of underlying political strength and also public anger. These solidarity demonstrations are more of the latter than the former. You can’t be successful in political organizing as a movement outside the [established political] parties in Canada without some common front. And we don’t have that in Canada, either among the anti-war and peace movements or amongst Palestinian organizations. This is a matter of some urgency if we are going to sustain the necessary political pressure beyond the horrors of Israel’s current war on Gaza. We should be having marches across the country which are bringing a million people out, with large participation by the unions, religious groupings, and others. We have managed this in the past [Canadian public opposition to the 2003-Iraq War] and need to do so again. Equally important, such a national movement is needed to coordinate not just the demonstrations but also a national BDS campaign – targeting a consumer boycott of say, Indigo and goods coming in from Israel, and picketing and agitating about Canadian arms production and sales to Israel – there are any number of firms providing inputs into the planes and drones bombing Gaza, and the mass horrific Israeli surveillance architecture across the Occupied Territories. We should also be coordinating mass divestment campaigns against Israeli firms, Canadian banks and pension funds investing in Israel. National campaigns will feed off local successes. And we can keep raising ideologically sanctions against Israel as we did against South Africa and that Canada has been doing in following the US lead in sanctions against countries doing the same violations of human rights as Israel. There is a need, in other words, to turn Palestinian solidarity activism into our daily lives in Canada the way we did with South African wine and other goods, and never stopped raising it while engaging in other struggles in our unions and communities.

Ceasefire Now continues to organize routine demonstrations on a nearly weekly basis across various cities in Canada to seek a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and an end to Canada’s support for Israel’s occupation.