The streets of downtown Montreal were flooded with people showing solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza on Saturday amid what they call a major humanitarian crisis. They demanded that Canada call for an immediate ceasefire, place an arms embargo on Israel and work to end the blockade on Gaza.
"Free free Palestine," they chanted as they flew Palestinian flags and set off red, white and green smoke.
People filled Place-des-Arts square from Clark Street to Jeanne-Mance Street before marching down René-Levesque Boulevard toward the CBC/Radio-Canada offices where they criticized its use of the words "conflict" and "Israel-Hamas war."
The protest was one of more than 30 across Canada organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM), which mobilizes Palestinians and Arabs in the diaspora. Protests were also held in Washington, D.C.
Sarah Shamy, an organizer with PYM in Montreal, said people have a responsibility to support the "right to Palestinian liberation against colonial domination and racist occupation."
"What we are seeing now is the people of the world, and in Montreal specifically, demanding an end to this genocide and standing for justice and human rights wherever we are," she said.
"This shows that people refuse to be complicit and they refuse for state leaders to do this in our name."
Bara Abuhamed of Montreal 4 Palestine said the amount of people in the streets shows that national leaders "do not represent their people" after Canada abstained from calling for an immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce at a United Nations (UN) Annual Assembly in October.
'Grave risk of genocide'
Earlier this week, seven UN human rights special rapporteurs issued a statement in Geneva saying the Palestinian people "are at grave risk of genocide" and called for a ceasefire. The rapporteurs also said Israel's strike on a refugee camp inside Gaza was a "brazen violation" of international law.
The director of the New York office of the UN high commissioner for human rights, Craig Mokhiber, resigned saying Israel's military actions in Gaza are "textbook genocide" and accused the UN of "failing" to act.
Marie Lamensch, a project coordinator at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University, said she believes Israel is committing war crimes.
"It doesn't seem at the moment that the Israeli army or government is trying to minimize the loss of life. We're seeing so many people killed. … It's a question of proportionality," she said.
"If you tell someone to leave a specific area but they have nowhere safe to go, you can say 'Israel warned them,' but where are they supposed to go?"
Sarah Shamy addresses the crowd of protesters demanding a ceasefire in Gaza at Place-des-Arts. (Erika Morris/CBC)
Israeli officials said about 1,400 Israelis and foreigners were killed since Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked Israel. Since then, Israel has launched attacks on Gaza, killing nearly 9,500 Palestinians as of Saturday, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza.
About 1.5 million people in Gaza, or 70 per cent of the population, have fled their homes over nearly a month of bombing and a ground assault from Israel, according to the UN.
Shamy says she believes that protesters will continue to demonstrate until a ceasefire is called.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed back against the United States' pressure for a "humanitarian pause" on Friday. He said there would be no temporary ceasefire until the 240 hostages held by Hamas were released.
As some foreign nationals began leaving Gaza, protesters stressed Canada must act to protect the lives of Palestinian civilians.
"They have been under a brutal and suffocating blockade where nothing goes in or out. It's a land, water and air siege and so I think Canada needs to take a proactive role in ensuring that the lives of these 2.2 million people… are saved," said Shamy.
Protesters blocked entrances of the CBC/Radio-Canada building as they criticized media coverage of Gaza. (Erika Morris/CBC)
Protest at CBC/Radio-Canada
The protest ended outside the CBC/Radio-Canada offices on René-Levesque Boulevard, where about 50 protesters blocked the entrances holding banners and spray-painted "call it genocide" and "justice for journalists in Gaza" on the ground.
They accused the CBC, and other media outlets, of favouring Israel and using language they say dehumanizes Palestinians. They also urged journalists to stand in solidarity with the journalists who were killed by Israeli bombs in Gaza.
More than 30 journalists have been killed in Gaza since Oct. 7, according to the Palestinian Journalist Syndicate.
"We're supporting those of you who already do important work," said Sarah Boivin, a spokesperson for Independent Jewish Voices Canada, "and to condemn calls on the media to inaccurately report, that is ultimately resulting in the murder of journalists."