Thousands in Montreal rally for Gaza ceasefire, Canadians to leave ‘in coming days’

Tens of thousands in Montreal demonstrated in support of Palestinians in Gaza on Saturday, drawing attention to the humanitarian crisis and demanding Prime Minister Trudeau call for an immediate ceasefire.

“At what point is it enough? How many civilians? How many children need to die before Justin Trudeau grows a spine and condemns the horrific actions of Israel?” one demonstrator told Global News.

As of 6 p.m. police said the march had remained peaceful and no arrests were reported. The rally was one of many held around the world, including two dozen in Canadian cities.

March organizers, the Palestinian Youth Movement, say it is calling for humanitarian aid to be allowed to flow into the territory and for an end to Canada’s support of Israel’s military action against Hamas, which the federal government has designated as a terrorist organization since 2002.

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Click to play video: 'Canadians can leave Gaza as early as Sunday as families grow desperate'
Canadians can leave Gaza as early as Sunday as families grow desperate

Protester Shaima Nakhli said what she described as Canadian officials’ reluctance to condemn the killing of Palestinians made her doubt the government’s commitment to human rights. “Canada is always there for human rights. Where are those values?”

This comes as Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said late this week that Canadians in Gaza will be allowed to leave “in the coming days” as Israel continues its air and ground assaults in the Hamas-controlled territory following the militant group’s deadly attack a month ago.

Global Affairs Canada says 516 Canadians and their family members are in the Gaza Strip and have called on the federal government to evacuate.

In a statement, Joly said she spoke with her Israeli counterpart Foreign Affairs Minister Eli Cohen and “received assurances that Canadians and their families will be able to leave Gaza beginning in the coming days.” Federal officials tell Global News that could happen as early as Sunday.

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Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry has reported that more than 9,440 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli strikes in the weeks since the Oct. 7 militant incursion. Israel claims Hamas killed over 1,400 people that day and took more than 200 hostages.

Click to play video: 'Israel-Hamas: Blinken, Arab counterparts disagree on need for ceasefire in Gaza'
Israel-Hamas: Blinken, Arab counterparts disagree on need for ceasefire in Gaza

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately declared war in response and has launched daily attacks since, stepping up bombardments over the past week and triggering growing global alarm about the lack of food, fuel, phone service and other basic needs for Gaza’s roughly 2.3 million residents.

Several demonstrations in support of Israel and condemning the rise of antisemitism have been held in Montreal over the last few weeks calling for the safe return of hostages. Some expressed their support for a halt to Israel’s strikes, voicing safety concerns for hostages.

“It’s a very legitimate concern,” Consul General of Israel Paul Hirschson said. “We hold Hamas accountable for their safety.”

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Others, however, rejected the call for a suspension of hostilities. Irwin Cotler, former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, told Global News: “We’ve had ceasefires before. The ceasefires have only resulted in Hamas arming themselves.”

Click to play video: 'No ceasefire in Gaza until hostages held by Hamas are freed: Netanyahu'
No ceasefire in Gaza until hostages held by Hamas are freed: Netanyahu
MP Anthony Housefather said the Canadian government hasn’t called for one “because Hamas would never abide by [it]. So essentially it would be asking only Israel to give up its right to respond.”

On Friday, Prime Minister Trudeau was slammed on social media for his response to a reporter while at a summit in the U.S. where he appeared to fumble his words and almost call for a ceasefire — something he has faced increased pressure on.

“We need to see a cease-, we need to see a humanitarian pause so we can flow, we need ceasing of the levels of violence that we’re seeing,” he said. “We need to see civilians protected, we need to see a humanitarian pause to get aid in, to get Canadians out, to get vulnerable people out, to get hostages released. These are the things that the people around the world are looking for.”

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A petition with over 120,000 signatures from Canadians has urged Trudeau to support a halt to the bombardment of Gaza and the creation of a humanitarian corridor. Dozens of MPs have written to Trudeau urging the same.

— with files from The Canadian Press 

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