This time Chris and I were on the streets –– by the Human Rights Monument –– in order to show that some Canadians do care about the plight of refugees. This was an impromptu and therefore somewhat amateurish demonstration, only organised since yesterday. According to the relevant Facebook page, also created only yesterday, nearly 800 supporters intended to come. Fewer than that turned up, but it was a good try in the circumstances, especially on a public holiday weekend with a heat warning from Environment Canada currently in effect.
The speakers, the first one of whom was the Secretary General of Amnesty International Ottawa, reiterated that we need to give immediate assistance to people applying for refuge in Canada (not just vague promises prompted by the upcoming election), followed by a sustained commitment to keep these families in a safe environment and together. Recently, Canada's contribution to relief action for refugees has been shrinking year by year.
"Shame!" responded the crowd. Someone at the front was holding a placard saying "Canada should do more!"
What we're seeing in Europe this summer is "the biggest refugee crisis since the end of the 2nd World War." An expert on refugee law from the University of Ottawa said (I'm paraphrasing because I was inadequately taking notes with one hand and holding my camera in the other) it is an important moment in history that has the potential to bring a change in attitude from our government, because there has never been so much public interest in the subject as there is now. Canadian citizens like you, she said, must continue to demand a change in the law. ––Applause from the crowd.
A Syrian journalist and immigrant took the microphone. He assured us that no one would put their children into a boat unless the sea felt safer than the land for them.
Another young and articulate professor from the University of Ottawa, Nadia Abu-Zahra (in the photo below), put it to us that everybody in Canada does appear to care about the refugees; at least it seems so, at present. So there should be no more excuses from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She reminded us that we had a Governor General who was once a refugee. The speaker herself, as the mother of a two-year-old, could never say no when another mother is begging for help. "They" (the bureaucrats) say no, but they do not represent us, she added.
Cheers from the crowd. And then Ms. Abu-Zahra got us to repeat in chorus: This is my country. This is your country. Refugees, welcome!