On Saturday Jan. 23, thousands of Canadians gathered at protests across the country and the world to voice their discontent with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s move to prorogue Parliament. The rallies were organized through the Facebook group Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament, which now boasts 216,000 members. While elected officials were set to go back to work this week, Harper’s prorogue suspends Parliament until early March, killing 37 bills and ending committee work on many issues, including torture of prisoners in Afghanistan. Over 50 rallies took place across Canada, with estimated crowds of over 7,000 in Toronto, 4,000 in Ottawa and 2,000 in Vancouver. Canadian expatriates also gathered at embassies and consulates in the United States and Europe.
rabble.ca hit the streets with concerned Canadians. Here are some of the sights and sounds from West to East: Whitehorse, Vancouver, Regina, Ottawa, Toronto and Hamilton. Check out our photos on Flickr and if you have stories, photos, videos or sound clips to add, we want to hear from you! Write [email protected]
Whitehorse, Yukon Territory
Speakers included: Liberal MP Larry Bagnell, Green Party representative John Streiker, Territorial NDP leader Elizabeth Hanson, Territorial Liberal leader Arthur Mitchel. There were no representatives from the Conservative party or the ruling Yukon Party.
Voices from the rally:
Bob Van Dyken: I’m here today because of what’s happening, or actually what’s not happening in Parliament. The government is elected by the people and should be serving the people. It shouldn’t be shut down by the prime minister for self-serving purposes.
T’lak’t’isksh: I’m here because I want to voice my discontent with Stephen Harper’s maneuvers to prorogue Parliament. I think it’s a really, really bad thing to do and I look at it as the last sign of life coming out of the Conservative party and I sincerely look forward to the change that’s ahead for the grassroots people. I prefer to go by my Indian name T’lak’t’isksh, [which] means the one who pushes the group forward from the back.
Jennifer Ellis: I’m here because I think it is absolutely abysmal that Stephen Harper has closed down Parliament again…It’s just so arrogant. Being accountable as a Prime Minister is just part of the job and if he doesn’t want to be accountable he should just step down.
Dave Brekke: I’m here because I’d like to have a democracy, a representative democracy in Canada and the Yukon.
Tanya Van Valkenburg: I’m here because I think it’s shameful what Stephen Harper is doing and he’s a coward. In my opinion he doesn’t want the world coming and watching the Olympics and hearing about the travesty of Afghanistan and the detainees and he doesn’t want that on the front pages.
Filed by Meagan Perry.
Attendance: Vancouver police estimated 2,000.
Speakers and attendants included: Representatives from the Sierra Club, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, Fair Vote Canada, Teamsters Canada, Council of Canadians, Canada Haiti Action Network, Langara International Socialists, the Raging Grannies and others; individual members from the Green Party, the Liberal Party, the NDP and the Conservative Party; and Adrian Carr from the Green Party, Libby Davies, Don Davies, Peter Julian, and Fin Donnelly from the NDP; Hedy Fry and Joyce Murray from the Liberals; and COPE City Councillor Ellen Woodsworth.
Voices from the rally:
Chester Lam: I’m here to express concern about what’s going on in our government and the lack of control we Canadians feel in terms of expressing our opinions about a lot of things, and this latest set of events and the people that have shown up shows that democracy is alive and people do care and it’s important to express your opinion.
Hopefully more people will become aware of what’s going on in Parliament and less apathetic, and hopefully we get to spread the word more so that we can actually make a difference.
Orla Adams: I’m here to show Stephen Harper that he can’t use his powers autocratically and that Canadians don’t support hyper partisan power-hungry politics.
Carrie Baptist: I like the sign “Canadians Care.” I feel like a lot of the reason that Harper prorogued is because he thought that nobody would notice, nobody would care, and nobody would comment on it, and that he could just do what he likes. But people do care and people do notice and I think it’s important to say that we see what you’re doing and we don’t agree with it.
Bob Hamilton, rally speaker: Hundreds of thousands of Canadians from all walks of life, from all political perspectives, even Conservatives like myself do care….We care when you choose to run and hide instead of facing public scrutiny…The Canadian people expect better, the Canadian people deserve better, and we demand better!
Shoni Field, rally speaker with Fair Vote Canada: We do care. This is not the “chattering classes,” this is not the discontent, this is Canadian voters and we care! As Canadians we feel deeply uncomfortable that Parliament can be prorogued at the whim of the prime minister.
Filed by Mara Kardas-Nelson.
Rabble rouser Dave Mitchell brings us the sights and sounds from Regina’s No Prorogue rally: Reflecting the province’s sizable Ukrainian population, perogie gags featured prominently in the event, which also featured street theatre, poetry and speeches by representatives of three of the four major political parties (provincial Green Party leader Larissa Shasko, Liberal MP Ralph Goodale, and NDP federal candidate Noah Evanchuk), as well as a raging granny sing-along. Political science professor Joyce Green drew the strongest crowd response with her calls for the introduction of a proportional representation system.
Attendance: The RCMP estimated 3,500 people, the organizers said 5,000.
Voices from the rally:
Here’s a report on the scene from rabble-rouser Mary Gaudet: I spoke to Alex Hill, one of the organizers. He’s an 18-year-old political science student at the University of Ottawa, and initiated the protest through the Facebook group. Hill saw there was no protest planned in Ottawa, so put out the call with Jesse Root. Hill thought there might be 12 people at the first meeting, but instead 75 showed up. With that start, the last three weeks have been non-stop work to make the event happen. This is the first time Alex has organized anything like this. However, some of the people who came to the first meeting had experience in organizing, including one man who voted for the Conservative party in the last election and was a big help in making today’s protest happen. Hill described the rally as “multi-partisan,” encompassing a broad coalition of people from many political stripes and organizations, as well as first-nations and many young people with no political affiliation. “As Gandhi said, first they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. So this is our fight. First they ignored us, then Tony Clement came out to ridicule us, dismissing us as the ‘chattering classes.’ But here we are.”
For protesters I spoke to, the prorogue represented Harper’s disdain for democracy, and the crowd frequently started chanting “Back to work!” Climate change and the failure in Copenhagen, the death of many bills, and shutting down the committee investigating the torture of prisoners in Afghanistan were other key issues addressed by speakers and people in the crowd. Leaders of the Liberal, NDP and Green parties all spoke.
Attendance: Over 7,000.
Voices from the rally:
Heather Branch: “I’m here because of my grandchildren, the oldest is only 3, and I don’t want them growing up in a country where they’re losing their rights…Harper doesn’t even let his own MPs speak without permission. That’s like living under a dictator or an emperor.”
Bill Bill: “I think it’s the wrong use of prorogation…it has a valid place in our system but not this way.”
Jonathan Allen, event organizer: “The major issues for us is the lack of accountability and the contemptuous view of democracy by the government, and specifically speaking Harper. We don’t like that they shut down Parliament in the face of opposition. This is the second prorogation in a year….I think the reason that he prorogued so early was because of the [Afghanistan] inquiry….It’s not good to run from parliament, to run from accountability, from the people who have elected you. He’s abusing the power that the people of Canada have bestowed upon him. I’m not saying that the right to prorogue should not exist, but he’s using it for partisan benefit instead of benefit for the state, and that’s wrong.”
Filed by Kristen Hanson.
Students from Ryerson’s online journalism class reported from anti-prorogue rallies in Toronto and Hamilton. Read their stories and view their photos here.