Protesters Gather at U.S. Embassy with Clear Message: Racism Is Not Welcome Here

Photos by Andre Gagne

Yesterday afternoon hundreds gathered on the steps by the U.S. Embassy, their message ringing out louder and clear over the carillon bells of the Peace Tower: “love trumps hate”.

Racism would not be tolerated here.

With divisive racial tensions mounting in the United States –and on the heels of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that left opposing protester Heather Heyer dead and a populace outraged by their President’s inability to take a firm stance against racism– Ottawans came together to give voice where leadership fell silent. No matter what Donald Trump may believe, this issue does not have blame to spread over both sides.

“No Trump! No KKK. No fascist USA,” joined chants of “black lives matter” and “refuges are welcomed here” to put the punctuation marks on the emphatic statement that Canadians will not let the same rhetoric encroach upon their human rights and values.  

“My message today is we do not have the option of remaining silent in the face of watching and witnessing these expressions, these violent expressions of anti-semitism, of racism, of homophobia and of course witnessing the violence perpetrated on those communities — not just in Charlottesville, but across the United States,” said Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton to the growing crowd.

“In the face of those who hate Jews and hate Black and Brown people, hate Queer People, we will not remain silent.”

Other speakers included Yami Msosa (Sexual Assault Support Centre), University of Ottawa law student Aditya Rao, Amnesty International Secretary General Alex Neve and a local transgendered woman who was heckled by a dissenting passerby showing how Canada is far from immune to the hate.

“What we are doing here today is to stand-up and have our voices heard if someone wants to stigmatize and vilify other communities with hatred and bigotry that we won’t stand for it as Canadians,” said Ihsaan Gardee, Executive Director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

Instances such as the killing of Abdirahman Abdi by Ottawa police Constable Daniel Montsion and the February shootings at a Quebec City mosque that left six dead and nineteen wounded were also brought up to show how this was not just something that was occurring south of the border.

 “We’ve seen that hate crimes targeting Canadian Muslims have increased by 60% from 2014 to 2015 and by 250% over the last four years,” said one speaker who went on to inform the crowd that over 100 extremists groups remain in operation in Canada today.

“They say that hate crimes are a message to our community but our message is that you will not win. If you take on one of us, you are taking on all of us.”

Rising above signs reading “White Silence = Violence”, “I protest because Heather Heyer no longer can” and “the only thing that should be separated by color is laundry” waved an upside down American flag carried by former Kansas City resident Reverend Sam McDargh.

“I don’t see how there can be healing and reconciliation as long as Trump is in the White House,” she said, adding that the President is only encouraging matters, not helping alleviate them.

“My country is in distress. At the end of the day, no matter what religion, we're all talking about the same thing: the golden rule."

While the embassy did issue a security message and police were on hand, the protest remained a peaceful one. After 45 minutes of speeches the group went on to encircle the building to make sure they were both seen and heard. As one person in the crowd stated, this was not where the work stopped. This was where it began.