Cries of protest and the drum of four thousand angry feet could be heard Fri., July 21 as Calgary's downtown core was taken over by approximatly 2,000 people protesting the recent Israeli attacks on Lebanon and what they perceive as the Canadian government's lethargic response to the violence.
"We're out here to give an opportunity for people affected to have a safe place to voice their objections," said Canada, Democracy and International Law director Julie Hrdlicka, one of the main organizers of the protest. "It's great to see this many people out in Calgary, but there should be even more. This affects us all."
Friday's protest followed a smaller one in front of the American Consulate last Monday, making it the second in a week. Protesters waving Lebanese flags gathered in front of City Hall, brandishing signs and proclaiming "Harper let us down" and "War no more."
At around 4 p.m., the group began marching up MacLeod Trail towards Prince's Island Park, where they turned and headed towards the Harry Hays building, their final destination. Calgary City Police escorted the group and closed down the adjoining streets during the march. The protestors carried six boxes draped with Canadian flags to represent the family of Canadians killed in the opening days of the conflict.
Once assembled at the federal building, several speakers, including prominent members of the Muslim community, Hrdlicka and others gave speeches denouncing the violence and calling for peaceful resolution of conflict in the region. Speakers condemned Stephen Harper's statement of Israel's retaliation as a "measured response" and called for Canada to act multilaterally with the United Nations in order to ensure the safety of civilians.
"Stephen Harper should not be making the statements he is," said Hrdlicka. "Those are statements of aggression."
Protesters were also critical of the perceived US influence on Canadian foreign policy.
"We're here to let Prime Minister Stephen Harper know he was elected to represent Canada and not be a clone of George W. Bush," said Ted Woynillowicz, Council of Canadians Calgary chapter vice-chair. Woynillowicz and others advocated increased multilateral involvement of Canada through the deployment of UN peacekeeping forces to prevent further civilian casualties while a cease fire is negotiated.
"We've done a great job in peacekeeping and we need to be peace-brokers, not co-conspirators," said Woynillowicz.
Calgary-East MLA Moe Amery was also present. His wife and two daughters were visiting Lebanon at the onset of the hostilities and were unable to be evacuated at the time of the protest. Amery encouraged citizens to write their politicians and also delivered a statement from the Government of Alberta announcing $250,000 in aid to the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies.
"As a community, we have a responsibility," said Amery. "We must strive to pressure our leaders to work towards a common goal."
The protest marked the tenth day of the conflict between the Israeli Defence Forces and the Lebanese Hezbollah party. Already over 400 Lebanese civiliansand 40 Israelis are reported dead.