On Saturday, Sept. 7, opponents to a military intervention in Syria’s civil war held a protest at Calgary’s city hall. On the same day, Hands Off Syria protests were held in major cities across Canada and around the world, including Edmonton, Toronto and Ottawa, among others.
Around 40 demonstrators waved Syrian flags and made their anti-war views known over megaphones and loudspeakers to heavy pedestrian and vehicle traffic along the sidewalk bordering Macleod Trail. Signs visible to traffic read “Hands Off Syria” and “No Justice, No Peace, U.S out of the Middle East.”
Event organizer and Syrian-Canadian Club member Younes Mahmoud said he is apolitical and does not support either side in the conflict.
“I don’t belong to any political party in Syria, nor here in Canada. I don’t like politics,” Younes said. “But this is my country. I have to protect my family there and I also have to protect my family here in Canada.”
However, Mahmoud said he and many other protesters do support a secular government in Syria — something Islamist opposition fighters in the country oppose.
“I don’t see anyone from the other side — the opposition or the government side — who can take care of my country like al-Assad right now. He is fighting, like, 80 countries — those jihadists who came to fight in my country,” Younes said.
The Syrian opposition includes fighters from countries like Iraq and Lebanon, many with connections to Islamist terrorist organizations like al-Qaida and Hezbollah.
“We are supporting secular government. That is the best description for us,” Younes said.
Calls for humanitarian intervention in the conflict amplified in recent weeks following allegations that the Syrian regime, headed by President Bashar al-Assad, used chemical weapons against civilians in the Damascus suburb of Daraya. According to U.S. government estimates, the attack resulted in the death of 1,400 Syrians, including over 400 children.
According to Canadian Foreign Affairs, Canada has already provided $203 million in humanitarian aid to affected Syrians. An additional $45 million was pledged by the Foreign Affairs office at the G20 summit held in St. Petersburg late last week.
In a speech given Sept. 6 at the G20 summit, Prime Minister Stephen Harper hinted that the Canadian Government might support a U.S led intervention.
“And so obviously we are very supportive of those of our allies who want to take action to try and prevent this development from going further, trying to dissuade the Syrian regime from this course of action,” Harper said.
The protest included current and former University of Calgary students. Corinne Addison, a recent U of C graduate with a bachelors in communications, said she opposes the idea of an American strike against Syria before the completion of a United Nations investigation, which is currently in progress.
“If they send in the military before the UN has come up with that evidence, it’s not only breaking international law,” Corinne said, “but it’s also extremely suspicious. If it turns out that Assad has used chemical weapons, he should be held accountable at the International Criminal Court.”
A UN team is currently investigating whether chemical weapons were used in Davara.
“I trust United Nations’ investigators — if they work without any push from the U.S. government or any other government,” Younes said. “We have to see the results, the report from them, to decide. You have to wait for these people to investigate. You have to respect them.”
The protest, which began at noon, ended earlier than organizers had hoped due to poor weather.