Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa on Wednesday in a show of strength against racism following a deadly attack on anti-racism protesters in a Virginia college town earlier this month.
Protesters at the peaceful noontime rally came sporting colourful placards, including one reading “No Trump, no KKK, no fascists U.S.A.,” and marched around the U.S. Embassy, located in the busy ByWard Market area near Parliament Hill. The RCMP estimated that some 700 people were in attendance at 12:45 p.m., the peak of the protest, which brought out representatives from Amnesty International Canada and the National Council of Canadian Muslims, among other groups.
The rally, organized via Facebook, came after 32-year-old Heather Heyer was struck and killed by a car driven by a far-right sympathizer in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12 as she protested against demonstrators objecting to the removal of a local statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The attack capped a weekend of tense rallies of both white supremacists and people demonstrating against them in the Virginia city, which drew worldwide attention.
Opponents of United States President Donald Trump, and some members of his own Republican Party, criticized him for failing to swiftly condemn the far-right demonstrators. He argued at a recent press conference that there was “blame on both sides” for the violent protests in the city.
Anti-racism demonstrator Aditya Rao, who spoke at the Ottawa rally, said it was “extremely heartening” to see how Ottawa responded to the Charlottesville violence. He praised demonstrators (roughly 100, he said) who came out to the embassy on Tuesday, the original date of the gathering, despite the event being postponed to the next day due to heavy storms in the city.
Mr. Rao, who represents the Ottawa Sanctuary City Network, a group advocating for municipal services to be accessible to all people regardless of immigration status, said he wanted the protest to demonstrate that “everybody can live together peacefully without the fear of violence.”
Speakers at the rally stood in front of a large banner that read “Refugees Welcome,” and were met with applause as they expressed their solidarity with victims of the Aug. 12 attack, while condemning far-right hate groups.
Protest organizers wrote on Facebook that the event was committed to “inclusiveness, racial equity, tolerance, visibility, and intersectionality,” and demonstrators stood in “solidarity” with the people who were “harmed by neo-Nazis in Charlottesville,” and with all “racialized peoples who are targeted by discrimination and systemic oppression.”
In response, the U.S. Embassy issued a statement warning American citizens about the demonstration and the potential dangers associated with protests of this nature, saying even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can “turn confrontational and escalate into violence.”
It urged American citizens to “avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations.”
Ottawa police were seen on foot monitoring the protest.