A handful of protesters walked on stage at the Isabel Bader Theatre during a panel on the crisis in Venezuela titled “Resolving the Venezuelan Crisis: Following the Meeting of the Lima Group of Foreign Ministers in Toronto” on October 26.
The protesters, who were demonstrating against “Canadian interventionism” in the country, held signs that read, “Hands Off Venezuela” and “Canada + OAS, Stop the Plunder! Out of Venezuela,” blocking audience members from viewing the panel. In response to the protest, dozens of audience members stood up and sang the Venezuelan national anthem. The protesters were later escorted out of the theatre by U of T Campus Police.
The panel was organized to mark the meeting of the Lima Group, an organization of 12 countries across the Americas who have come together to address the current political and economic crisis in Venezuela. The crisis has recently intensified with protests that have been violently shut down by the government throughout this year, bearing witness to a major swing towards authoritarianism. In response, the Canadian government imposed targeted sanctions on key figures in the Venezuelan government to “send a clear message that their anti-democratic behaviour has consequences,” it said.
Just minutes before the protest, a preliminary panel featuring Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General Irwin Cotler, and U of T Professor of Political Science Lucan Ahmad Way took place. Freeland emphasized the importance of Canada acting for the Venezuelan people, but she also said the crisis in the country must be dealt with using “a solution that Venezuelans find for themselves.”
The main panel included Way, former Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega, Chair of the Board of the Canadian Council of the Americas Jonathan Hausmann, Georgia State University Professor of Political Science Jennifer McCoy, and Senior Fellow of the Institute for International Economics Gary Clyde Hufbauer.
Before the forum began, a group of approximately 20 people — including those who walked on stage later — staged a similar protest in front of the Goldring Student Centre, across the street from the Isabel Bader Theatre. One of the protesters, Manuel Luna, opined that Canada and the US are seeking to intervene in Venezuela “despite the fact that [Venezuelan] government forces won 75 per cent of the governorships” in a recent regional election.
Rebecca Sarfatti, Project Director of the Canada Venezuela Democracy Forum, who was in the audience at the time of the protest, said that the protesters are the same group of people that always appear at Venezuela-related events. “Usually they bring young students who might join the organization, not necessarily young people from Venezuela, but they come and show up and show their ‘support’ to the Venezuelan regime, in a very abrupt way.”