On the morning of January 30, hundreds of protesters braved the bitter cold and gathered outside the American Consulate on University Avenue. Their signs presented a dichotomy of love and hate: they were protesting the executive order signed by US President Donald Trump, which bans citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from coming to the United States. Their messages, some artfully composed and witty, others hastily crafted with magic marker and deft, welcomed immigrants and refugees, and shunned the newly-elected leader of the US whose policies have sewn division in the fourteen days since his inauguration.Throughout the rally, University Avenue was closed from Dundas Street to Queen Street on the west side, with the east side of the boulevard remaining open. Scores of police remained present but inactive, mostly focussed on directing traffic and ensuring that protesters did not cross the barriers that had been set up.Many students from U of T came out to the protest, some of them joining in on an organized walk from Victoria College.U of T student Liana Ernzst said that the words of a friend caused her to come to the protest. “I had a friend who said to me ‘dude you went to the Women’s March. Who the fuck do you think you are not coming to this?’ And I was like — you’re right,” she told The Varsity.Basil Southey, Head of Non-Resident Affairs at Trinity College, describes having been physically assaulted while protesting at the rally: “Towards the end of the protest I was standing with some friends holding my sign that read ‘what the actual fuck, America?’” Southey said a man approached him, angry at his sign, and told Southey that he would give him one chance to tear it up before attacking him.“I said that I do not believe in violence and that I would not tear up my sign,” Southey said, “he then punched me in the face.” After that, several bystanders grabbed his assailant and held him until police arrived seconds later to arrest him.By 8:35 am, the crowd had moved across to the east side of University Avenue, outside the US Consulate. At 8:40 the crowd sat down at the behest of the organizers, who said it was to reassure police that they were not there in violence.“It took days of repressive lawmaking, people being stuck at borders, and a tragedy at a mosque in Quebec City to bring out the people,” Sharmeen Khan, the media spokesperson for the organizers, told The Varsity.Khan made it clear that the protest also included matters of policy that pertain to Canada.“We still have an agreement, it’s called the Safe Third Country Agreement, with the United States. If refugees who are fleeing violence arrive in the US, they have to apply for asylum there, even if they want to land in Canada,” she said. “And we need to get out of that agreement.”Further, the protesters called on Prime Minister Trudeau to take concrete action against the executive order coming out of the United States. “We don’t want him to tweet nice things about how diverse Canada is, we want to make our country more open to refugees and immigrants,” Khan said.Khan suggested that there were up to 2,000 people present outside the consulate.Toronto City Councillor Joe Mihevic of Ward 21 was among the first to speak to the crowds through a megaphone. He said they were all out there to stand “against Trump’s policies and ensure they do not come into Canada” and said that there will be a motion at City Hall to reaffirm Toronto’s status as a sanctuary city.Mihevic kept his remarks short, ending with the proclamation that “everyone is welcome here, everyone is part of the human family.”By 9:10 am, the crowd migrated east to City Hall, where they formed around the Toronto sign. Toronto City Councillor Joe Cressy of Ward 20 arrived shortly after and began to speak to the crowd. He ended his speech, which focused on Toronto as a sanctuary city, saying, “We will fight, we will organize, we will love, we will win.”By 10:00 am, the crowd returned to outside the US Consulate, where they would stay until around 2:00 pm.Another rally against Islamophobia in front of the US Consulate is planned for Saturday at 12:30 pm.
Published: 11:34 am, 3 February 2017