Beirut explosion: Lebanese Montrealers call for change at protest outside consulate

Click to play video 'Lebanese Canadians gather outside consulate to demand government step down' Lebanese Canadians gather outside consulate to demand government step down
WATCH: Dozens of Lebanese Montrealers demonstrated outside their consulate on Friday. Many want the entire Lebanese government to step down. They blame corruption for the massive deadly explosion that rocked the city Tuesday. Phil Carpenter reports. – Aug 7, 2020

A vigil Thursday night at the Lebanese consulate in Montreal organized to mourn the victims of the Beirut explosion was followed up with an anti-government protest on Friday afternoon.

“Today we’re here, we have a lot of pain, we have a lot of sorrow but we have even much more anger,” said Ghadi Elkoreh, a member of United Diaspora, the organizing group behind Friday’s protest.

“We have a lot of rage, we’re angry at what the government of Lebanon has done to its people.”

Read more: Second vigil held in Montreal to mourn the lives lost in Beirut explosion

That sentiment was echoed by many in attendance.

“I came out of mourning, I came out of anger, out of civic duty for a country and for humanity,” said Lebanese-Canadian writer Rawi Hage.

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Organizers of the protest are calling for justice and accountability following the massive blast in Beirut’s port that killed more than 150 people, wounded thousands of others and destroyed entire neighbourhoods, leaving tens of thousands homeless.

“This doesn’t (just) happen, this is not a mistake — people are responsible and have to be held accountable for it,” said Sammi Abou Mansour, protest organizer and United Diaspora member.

Read more: Beirut explosion — Here’s how you can help the victims

The blast is believed to have been caused when a fire touched off a stockpile of 2,750 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate that authorities left sitting in a warehouse for years — despite a customs official’s repeated warnings.

For many Lebanese, Tuesday’s deadly explosion was the last straw after years of corruption and mismanagement by a political elite that has ruled for decades.

“I think it’s a crime against humanity what happened,” Hage said.

“They’re (the government) fully responsible, whether be it because they are collaborating with some political force or another or whether out of incompetence or greed and total corruption. They are certainly guilty.”

Protesters gathered outside the consulate calling for widespread change beginning with the immediate resignation of the current government, including its representatives abroad like Consul General Antoine Eid.

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Read more: Beirut explosion — Calls for reform grow as leaders pledge aid to troubled state

“It is time that the sectarian leaders let go of the power they have over the country,” Elkoreh said. “I think the Lebanese people deserve to live in dignity. They’ve gone through so much for way too long.”

How that change will come about is still unclear but many are calling for a new system and new elections.

“We want fair elections, transparent elections and most importantly an electoral law that gives us what we want and a chance to be able to have enough people in Parliament that represent,” said Abou Mansour.

“We should change the system from a sectarian system to, I would wish, a progressive secular system,” Hage said.

Global News spoke to Eid during Thursday’s vigil and he said he understood the people’s anger.

Click to play video 'How the Beirut blast would have impacted Canadian cities' How the Beirut blast would have impacted Canadian cities
How the Beirut blast would have impacted Canadian cities – Aug 7, 2020

“They are right to be upset,” he said. “We are all angry, we are all upset, we are all mad. We don’t accept what happened. It was a big devastation but now it’s time to pray, time to stand up, it’s time to show our unity.”

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Eid also talked about the need for answers.

“We need to know what happened,” he said.

Elkoreh agreed the people need answers — but not from the Lebanese government.

“We are asking the Canadian government to support the increasing demands of the Lebanese people for an independent group of experts to examine what happened so that we get to the truth,” he said.

Read more: Longtime Montreal resident killed in Beirut explosion

Demonstrators also called on international governments to stop supporting the Lebanese government and acknowledged Canada’s financial contribution to humanitarian relief.

“Today we ask the governments such as the Canadian government to help our Lebanese brothers and sisters in such tough times but we ask them to not give a penny to those in power,” Abou Mansour said.

“The Canadian government listened. They’re donating $5 million — $1.5 (million) to the Lebanese Red Cross and 3.5 are undecided but they said they are not going to those in power, they’re going directly to the people.”

Read more: Beirut explosion — Canada emphasizes need for economic, political reform in Lebanon

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The Quebec government, for its part, announced $1 million in emergency aid to help support humanitarian projects in the devastated Lebanese capital.

It says financial support will be granted to international development organizations from Quebec that work in Lebanon that have the capacity to intervene quickly and effectively in this type of situation.

— With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press