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Montreal students flock to Ottawa to demand Canadian government call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza

Content Warning: Mentions of death, violence, genocide, domestic abuse, and rape

On Nov. 25, thousands of people from all across Canada marched in Ottawa to stand with Palestine and demand that the Canadian federal government call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The event was organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM), the Association of Palestinian Arab Canadians, Labour 4 Palestine, and the International League of Peoples’ Struggle Canada. Groups including Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) McGill and PYM Montreal mobilized dozens of buses for hundreds of Montrealers to travel to Ottawa. Thousands gathered in the field in front of Parliament Hill at 1 p.m., listening to speeches and chants from various organizers and guest speakers, and then marched around downtown Ottawa beginning at 3:30 p.m. 

(Mason Bramadat/The Tribune)

According to Al Jazeera, following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and resulted in roughly 240 others being taken hostage, Israel has targeted medical infrastructure, destroyed and damaged over 278,000 residential buildings, and cut off access to water and electricity in Gaza. Over 14,854 Palestinians have been killed, of which more than 6,150 are children, as of Nov. 27. On Nov. 22, Israel and Hamas agreed to a four-day pause in fighting and the release of a number of hostages. The temporary truce, which came into effect on Nov. 24 at 7 a.m., also dictates that humanitarian convoys and relief aid be let into Gaza. As of Nov. 27, the deal has been extended by two days, according to Qatar. Israel has released more than 100 imprisoned Palestinian and Hamas has released 58 Israeli hostages as of Nov. 27, according to The Washington Post.

Speakers on Parliament Hill demanded that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemn the Israeli government’s actions and call for a permanent end to the war instead of a pause. Previously, Trudeau has attested to Israel’s “right to self-defence.” In an interview with The Tribune, PYM member and media spokesperson Yara Shoufani called for the Canadian government to demand an end to the violence in Gaza and the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners. 

“Gaza has been under blockade for over 17 years, whereby Israel controls Gaza’s access to air, land, and sea, effectively making an open-air prison. We’re here to demand that the siege be lifted and demand an end to Canada’s complicity in Israel’s genocide,” Shoufani said. “Currently, there are [around 10,000] Palestinians who are held hostage in Israeli prisons. Some of them are children, some of them are under administrative detention [….] So, we’re calling for the liberation of all our prisoners and the liberation of Palestine.”

(Mason Bramadat/The Tribune)

Sophie Arseneault, BA’ 23 and another march attendee, emphasized the need for institutions to also abide by the demands posed to the government in an interview with The Tribune.  

“I find that academic institutions such as McGill have a really big responsibility given the platform that they have, but also in terms of the weight that they hold in research and in academic publications to call for a government to again be held responsible in its responsibility to uphold international humanitarian law,” Arseneault said. 

In an interview with The Tribune, Alex*, a member of SPHR McGill who attended the march, pointed out the importance of representing the student front in the movement for Palestinian liberation in Ottawa and called out McGill for its Israeli investments. One of McGill’s investments includes $515, 381 into Lockheed Martin—the world’s largest arms producer, which provides the Israeli military with air and ground weapons. McGill additionally invests $500,000 into Airbus—an aerospace corporation that has partnered with Israeli Aerospace Industries to develop surveillance drones used in Gaza. 

“The goal of a mass rally like this is to show the strength we have in numbers, and to demonstrate the sort of popular power of the movement,” Alex said. “It’s deeply important that McGill is able to follow in a call for a ceasefire and publicly condemn the genocide in Palestine. But also, as we put pressure on the Canadian government, we also have to recognize that McGill as an institution is complicit in Zionism for its investments in weapons manufacturers and exchange programs to Israel.” 

In a message to the McGill community on Nov. 2, Principal and Vice-Chancellor Deep Saini wrote that a university “should remain impartial with respect to political questions” and should focus on upholding institutional values. McGill’s Director of Institutional Relations, Michel Proulx, echoed this sentiment in a written statement to The Tribune, stating that McGill’s scope is limited to what happens at the university. 

“Weighing in on geopolitical crises around the world lies beyond a university’s mandate and role. Our academic mission is most faithfully served when institutional views are limited to what happens here on our campuses, so that all students, faculty, and staff feel included as members of our community, regardless of their identities and personal beliefs,” Proulx wrote. 

Proulx additionally explained that McGill became a signatory of the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI) in July 2022, which is a global network for investors who adhere to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations in their investments. Fund managers select investments on behalf of McGill in accordance with UN PRI principles.

“99 [per cent] of  McGill’s Investment Portfolio assets are managed by those who follow an ESG Policy or are signatories of the UNPRI. Only 70 [per cent] of assets were managed according to these principles in 2016. When selecting investment management firms, the [Office of Investments] sees ESG integration as critical,” Proulx wrote. “McGill does not invest in individual stocks or companies. McGill selects fund managers based on key criteria, which include risk, rate of return and adherence to ESG principles, among other considerations and remains active in evaluating fund managers’ performance and investment processes.”

At around 3:30 p.m., the crowd dispersed to Wellington Street—the road in front of Parliament Hill—to begin marching east toward Dalhousie Street. Accompanied by drummers, organizers of the event chanted  “Free, Free, Palestine,” “So-So-So-Solidarité, avec, avec, avec la Palestine,” and various other refrains into megaphones. 

(Mason Bramadat/The Tribune)

In an interview with The Tribune, Ruby Belson, a Jewish attendee who travelled from Montreal, explained that their attendance was motivated by personally experiencing forms of oppression in the past, alluding to their sign which read “Rape Survivors for Palestine.” Belson emphasized the necessity to separate Judaism from the actions of the Israeli state. 

“I’m a survivor of domestic abuse, and I’m a survivor of rape. I see what’s going on in Palestine, I see the oppression and I relate on a minute scale as an individual who has experienced oppression,” Belson said. “I just can’t believe that my people […] are using our faith to commit genocide [….] I don’t want my religion to fall into the pits of Zionism.”

Tracy Teif, a Jewish mother among the protestors, expressed the sorrow that she has felt over Israel’s actions. She echoed the need for distinction between Judaism and Israel in an interview with The Tribune.  

“I don’t know how we walk back from what we’ve done. I’m Jewish, and I’m a Jewish mother,” Teif said. “The more we stand up and say no to genocide, the more people will understand that Israel is not Judaism.” 

(Mason Bramadat/The Tribune)

Some supporters rushed to the roofs of nearby public buildings, waving Palestinian flags, lighting flares, and chanting from the rooftops. Upon reaching the intersection of Dalhousie Street and York Street, the march turned left on York, heading toward Sussex Street. Marchers approached the Ottawa sign situated on York, which was adorned with children’s coffins covered in Palestinian flags, kids’ toys, and small bags tied up to illustrate a child’s body. 

(Mason Bramadat/The Tribune)

Marchers then turned toward Sussex, heading back to Parliament Hill. Once again, supporters flooded the field in front of Parliament Hill. Speakers gave their closing remarks, thanking attendees for travelling from across Canada to be present for the event. They encouraged everyone to mobilize strikes on Nov. 29 in schools, unions, and businesses, in support of Palestine. The event officially ended at around 5:15 p.m., at which point a few hundred people remained gathered in front of the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council

*Alex’s name has been changed to preserve their confidentiality.

Bus tickets for The Tribune to travel to Ottawa were discounted by PYM. This did not impact the writing or editing of the piece.

This piece was updated at 11 p.m. on Nov. 28 to include an additional comment from McGill.

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