At lunchtime on Monday January 30, the day after the attack on the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec in Quebec City, well over 1,000 demonstrators stood three- and four-deep in a human chain, completely surrounding the United States Embassy in Ottawa. They rallied against Islamophobia and against U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Speakers included Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International, Somali community organizer Dahoba Omar, former NDP MP for Ottawa South Paul Dewar, and Bara’a Arar, daughter of Mahar Arar, a Syrian Canadian dual citizen who was rendered to torture in Syria in 2002 and freed after a year of public campaigning across Canada by his wife Monia Mazigh.
Dahoba Omar spoke about refugees, noting that “people don’t put their children in boats unless the water is safer than the land.” Alex Neve called on the Canadian government to rescind the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which stipulates that refugee claimants must claim refugee protection in the first safe country they get to, saying “It is imperative that the government act immediately to rescind that designation of the United States as a safe country for refugees. That needs to happen. That needs to happen before the end of the day.” Paul Dewar echoed that request, as well as saying that Prime Minister Trudeau must immediately formally request that Trump rescind the ban. Dewar got a huge ovation when he also called on the City of Ottawa to become a sanctuary city for immigrants and refugees. Spoken word poet Bara’a Arar spoke movingly about the impact of popular protest, asking rhetorically if her and our words meant anything, and then answering in the affirmative, saying to loud cheering that it was the words of hundreds and thousands of people that were what freed her father. After that, demonstrators chanted “No bans, no walls, sanctuary for one and all” and “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here” as they clasped hands, blocked traffic and surrounded the embassy.
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