It was an overcast Saturday afternoon in Dundas Square where 7,000 pro-democracy supporters gathered to ridicule the Prime Minister’s decision to prorogue parliament until the beginning of March.

Everyone from newborns to seniors filled the Square to capacity, many holding ‘No to Proroguing, Yes to Democracy’ signs while others were proudly waving their Canadian flags.

At the end of December, Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean granted Harper’s request to end the parliamentary session. That didn’t fly well with ordinary Canadians, especially since it was the Prime Minister’s second request for prorogation in less than a year.

Saturday’s rally was a non-partisan event, mostly free from political signs or union flags. The familiar bagpiper’s music filled the air before the speeches began and protesters milled around the Square while organizers performed last minute sound checks. The protesters were bundled in parkas and toques with some wearing homemade signs. One said: “Get Back to Work, Harper.”

Another said: “Dear Mr. Harper, I’m sorry your foot odour has become so bad that you felt the need to shut down parliament. It was wrong of Mr. McKay to make fun of you even if the smell really was distracting him. Please write to me and I will be happy to send you some Dr. Scholl’s. Yours truly, a voting Canadian.”

A middle aged woman reminded the Prime Minister of the words he spoke in April 2005 with a sign that said: “When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent is frankly when it’s losing its moral authority to govern.”

Near the stage, two women carried an open black cardboard coffin with the a cardboard cutout of the parliament buildings resting inside. A man stood beside them with a sign that said: “Is Democracy Dead?”

Shortly before 1 pm, lifelong activist and feminist Judy Rebick led the crowd in a chorus of chants to remind the Prime Minister what Canadians want. “What do we want,” said Rebick. “Democracy,” yelled the crowd. “When do we want it,” said Rebick. The crowd responded, “Now.”

Rebick’s been an activist for more than 40 years but she’s never seen a spontaneous protest that became so strong in such a short time. “There was never a protest like this in the 1960’s,” she said. “Now we know that people are prepared to put their bodies in the street to say that democracy in Canada belongs to the people.”

After Rebick fired up the crowd she handed things off to the event organizers, who proved that the majority of Canadians do care about parliament.

“I never thought it would turn out to be thousands of you guys coming out against this anti-democratic move by Harper,” said Justin Arjoon, Toronto rally coordinator for Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament (CAPP) in front of a capacity crowd at Dundas Square.

Days after the announcement of prorogation, University of Alberta graduate student Christopher White organized a Facebook group called Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament, which planned rallies on Saturday in over 60 cities and towns across Canada and in cities around the world including London, New York and San Francisco. The group eventually grew to over 200,000 members.

Last November, a Facebook group was set up after Ontario announced drivers aged 16 to 19 with a G2 graduated license would be restricted to only one other teen passenger. The group quickly grew to more than 110,000 members, topping out at over 129,000 members, forcing Premier McGuinty to eventually back down.

“This just goes to show that the way of the future is online and getting you guys involved through Facebook.”

The rally was emceed by standup comedian Martha Chaves who immigrated to Canada from Nicaragua and told the crowd that she loves Canada because she came from a country where democracy is a dictatorship and she doesn’t want her new country to become like her old country.

“I don’t like Stephen Harper,” said Chaves. “I think he’s the devil because I’ve yet to see pictures of both of them together. So they are one in the same person in my opinion.”

Less than ten minutes into the rally, Chaves reported that the police had to close Yonge Street to accommodate the overflow from the rally in Dundas Square. The crowd was now estimated to be 10,000 strong.

The CAPP rallies were put together by young men and women in this country, a sign that the torch has passed and the youth are prepared to fight back against a Prime Minister who appears to place his own interests above the best interests of ordinary Canadians.

“It’s so important that we hold our government accountable,” said Marie Kelly, Secretary-treasurer of the Ontario Federation of Labour. “So while our legislature in Ottawa is deathly silent today, in city across city across our great country there is a voice so loud that it’s deafening.”

That voice told the Canadian government Saturday that it’s time to get back to work, that Canadians need a government that’s working for them and that our democracy isn’t like a tap that can be turned on or off at will.

“It runs day in and day out as a vein through our blood,” said Kelly.

This is the worst economic crisis Canadians have ever experienced. Children are going hungry. Entire communities have been wiped out. Workers have lost their jobs with little hope of replacing them. Public services are being dismantled.

“Yet our government has decided to take a vacation rather than deal with the economic crisis we’re all suffering through.”

But workers don’t have that same luxury, often forced to work harder and longer with the ever-present threat of termination.

“We are your employer and the citizens of this country are handing you your pink slip,” she said. “If you’re not going to do the job then get out of the seat and let someone who’s gonna do get in there and do it.”

Canadians want a government that will not only represent their interests but in an honest, open and ethical manner. For the past 15 years, Democracy Watch has been pushing for democratic reform, government accountability and corporate responsibility.

“If we want a good, democratic federal government, we are going to have to keep pushing all parties and all politicians to make changes,” said Duff Conacher, coordinator for Democracy Watch, a leading citizen group.

“Canada was formed not only on peace and order but also on good government.”

“Good government now,” chanted the crowd.

But in the absence of strong federal leadership that should have committed more money to economic stimulus projects, the unemployment rate remains at 8.5 per cent. A new report released Monday by the Canadian Labour Congress found that hundreds of thousands of Canadians could run out of E.I. before finding a new job. Yet in spite of the challenges, Canadians are fighting back. The silent majority having finally decided to raise their voices.

“It’s time to remind our leaders that they don’t run the country – we do,” said Shelley Melanson of the Canadian Federation of Students. “The undemocratic behavior of our federal government has brought us on to the streets to support the fundamental principles of democracy.”

Organizers promised that Saturday’s rallies were only the first step.

“We’re not going away after today, Stephen Harper,” said James Clark of CAPP, shortly before 10,000 people marched through the streets of Toronto occupying all four lanes.

“We’re coming back until we win back the democracy we want in Canada.”

Click here to see more photos from the rally.

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.