As the latest war between Israel and Hamas intensified half a world away, demonstrators in cities across Canada chanted, marched and called for justice in rallies supporting opposing sides of the conflict on Sunday
Pro-Palestinian protestors in dozens of cities demanded a halt to hostilities, while a rally in Toronto drew thousands calling for the release of Israeli hostages seized by Hamas during the attack that sparked the war.
At a pro-Palestine rally at Nathan Phillips Square organized by the group Ceasefire Now, Holocaust survivor Suzanne Weiss denounced Israel’s ongoing invasion of Gaza City, which the Israeli military says it has now encircled.
“It’s a violent assault against the solidarity between Muslims, Christians and Jews,” Weiss told the crowd in front of city hall.
“Palestinian freedom is our freedom too.”
Families said attending the pro-Palestinian rallies has become a weekly occurrence. Attendees chanted end the siege of Gaza” and held signs reading
, ceasefire now, stop genocide.”
Yassmin Hafez, 17, said crowds have grown in the last two weeks “as things have gotten more dire.”
“I feel it’s the least that I can do when you know that people are suffering and are dying.”
“We want to see the Prime Minister of this country, the government of this country come out strong to make sure that the war stops, that children stop dying and we return to a peaceful world,” said Stephen Brown, the CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).
The NCCM has said the organization has been inundated with reports of racism, hate and violence against community members since Oct. 7.
“As soon as Oct. 7 happened we condemned the killing of the Israeli civilians immediately, all of us,” said Mohamad Fakih, philanthropist and CEO of Paramount Fine Foods. “But then, five and six days after these, Palestinian civilians were being killed.”
Similar afternoon demonstrations unfolded in Montreal and cities ranging from Antigonish, N.S., to Yellowknife.
“I don’t feel like Western countries see the value of kids in Gaza the same as any other country in the world,” said Salma Ghersi, a 34-year-old Montrealer who said her husband is Palestinian.
“I feel like there’s injustice.”
Meanwhile, thousands turned up at a rally at Toronto’s Christie Pits Park, organized by the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights. The Jewish community and allies from the Ukrainian and Iranian-Canadian communities gathered for what organizers describe as a solidarity rally in support of Israeli hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza.
The park holds historical significance for Jewish Canadians, marking the spot where violence erupted between Jews and Anglo-Canadians in the 1933 Christie Pits Riot, set off by a swastika flag unfurled by Nazi-inspired youth.
“I think as Jewish Canadians we’re understanding that there is a latent antisemitism underneath that has become publicly permissible to share and it is scary,” said Sara Lefton, the chief development officer with UJAF.
“We cannot – cannot – call for a ceasefire without calling for the return of the hostages and for Hamas to surrender. And so we absolutely need to end the killing of Israeli civilians and Palestinian civilians but we can only do that if Hamas is gone,” said Lefton.
“We understand that if either Russia or Hamas succeeds it will be dire days for all of us,” added Alexandria Chyczu, the president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.
Maayan Shavit said her aunt was killed and her cousin kidnapped by Hamas militants in the attack on Israeli residents on Oct. 7.
The 45-year-old said she found the demonstration electrifying” and empowering.”
“Now we know it’s no longer my story or the people that have a straight, immediate connection to the kubutzim,” said Shavit, who has extended family in Kibbutz Be’eri, where at least 120 residents were killed. “They are all our families, and we miss them.”
“It’s very clear that there is no ceasefire without our kidnapped people,” she said.