Thousands of protesters lined the streets of Canadian cities from Halifax to Vancouver as part of a global “human chain” to show solidarity with ongoing anti-government protests in Iran.
In Torontostretches of Yonge Street were flanked by crowds chanting ‘women, life, freedom’ and ‘say her name: Mahsa Amini’, who died on September 16 after being arrested for allegedly breaking the country’s strict Islamic dress code for women.
At a downtown intersection, cars honked as they drove past protesters holding photos of loved ones among the victims of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752. On January 8, 2020, 176 people, including 55 Canadian citizens, were killed when Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukrainian airliner.
The events were organized by the Association of Families of the Victims of Flight PS752.
Arash Morattab, who lost his brother and sister-in-law in the crash, said the victims of Flight 752 had common cause with the protest movement that has rocked Iran for nearly a month and a half in the face of the violent reaction of the security forces. .
“We are all victims of a regime that started killing people from the first days of their coming to power, and it continues until now,” Morattab said. “They killed our loved ones in January 2020, and now they are killing other people who are fighting for their rights.”
“It’s not just the hijab”
The fight for justice is particularly sensitive for women in Iran who continue to be denied freedom, said protester Sara Ahmadi. She said she had problems with the scheme because she was not legally married to her common-law husband, who was killed in the plane crash.
“Women have no rights in my country,” Ahmadi said. “It’s not just about the hijab. It’s about everything.”
Further north on Yonge Street, protesters chanted “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the Islamic regime must go” and “What solution? Revolution” as drivers honked their horns in solidarity.
“It’s amazing,” said Mehrdokht Hadi, one of the organizers of the Toronto event. “Two months ago I couldn’t imagine this crowd on the streets, now people are not afraid and people are motivated.”
Protests in Iran sparked by Amini’s death initially focused on the state-mandated hijab, or headscarf for women, but quickly turned into calls for the fall of the country’s theocracy.
At least 270 people have been killed and 14,000 arrested in the protests that have swept over 125 Iranian cities, according to the group Human Rights Activists in Iran.
The Iranian government has repeatedly claimed that foreign powers orchestrated the protests, but has provided no evidence to support this claim.
Trudeau at a demonstration in Ottawa
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at the rally in Ottawawhere several hundred people gathered in front of the National Gallery of Canada before moving to stretch on either side of the Alexandra Bridge.
“The Iranians have made their choice, Canada be their voice” and “Canada, United States, take action, take action” featured prominently in chants heard in the nation’s capital.
Trudeau told the crowd that he and other Canadians stood with protesters in Iran.
“They are not forgotten. Their voices are heard,” he said.
The biggest applause for the Prime Minister came when he discussed Iranians in Canada “who have taken advantage of the corruption, the horrible Iranian regime”, saying that “no longer” Canada would be a safe haven.
Canada moved to bar thousands of members of the Iranian regime and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from entering Canada.
Trudeau’s words on Saturday had the crowd chanting “kick them out.”
One of the protesters, Arian Nourishad, said she was happy to see Trudeau at the protest, alongside Sophie Grégoire Trudeau.
“Of course you can always do more. But we’re glad he’s here,” she said.
Sharooz Fazni, who came to Canada from Iran in 1984, said he had more hope than ever about the protests. He said he was happy to participate in demonstrations in Canada to support those in Iran.
“Nobody shoots here. But in Iran…”
Calls for democracy, end of the regime
In Winnipegover 100 people participated in the human chain protest which began at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and spread along the Esplanade Riel.
“We want democracy for Iran. We want this oppression to end,” said Kouroush Doustshenas, who helped organize the event.
“We want to see an end to this regime because as long as they are there there will be no peace and no justice, not just for Iranians but for much of the Middle East,” he said. .
The real estate agent lost his fiancée when Flight 752 was shot down. Eight of those killed in the disaster were from Winnipeg.
He is now director of the Association of Families of the Victims of Flight PS752.
“We called [for] this human chain to commemorate and celebrate the lives of those we have lost [to the regime]”Doustshenas said.
Doustshenas and other leaders of Manitoba’s Iranian community met with Trudeau and MPs in Winnipeg Friday at the Tehran Cafe.
Meanwhile, around 100 people showed their support for Iranian protesters in Edmonton. The rally was organized by the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton (IHSE) with the Flight PS752 Families Association.
Organizer Reza Akbari, president of the IHSE, said the Iranian government’s tight control over the internet limits people’s ability to share their stories about what is happening in Iranian schools and on its streets. He said the protest was a way to be their voice and get their message heard.
In Vancouver, Thousands of people joined along the Lions Gate Bridge, which connects Vancouver to North Vancouver, to form a human chain as of noon PT. The group held banners and waved flags as passing motorists honked their horns.
According to the Vancouver Police Department, there were 15,000 to 20,000 people on the bridge at the height of the rally. The protest was peaceful with no arrests, police said.
Massive protest on the Lionsgate Bridge by the local Iranian community against the current Iranian regime. People chanting slogans of ‘Azaadi'(Freedom). Both sides of the bridge covered by protesters forming a human chain. pic.twitter.com/D6ezYW5a2J
“Please be our voice”
About 200 people demonstrated in Harborside Park in St. John’s Saturday.
Aysan, one of the protest organizers, said she was arrested in Iran and forced to wear the hijab. CBC News only refers to her by her first name to protect her family still in Iran.
Aysan called on people to speak up to help force regime change in Iran.
“What we expect from people around the world, from Canadians, first of all, be our voice. You may not know this, but being your voice, even sharing your story on social media can save lives,” she said.
“We are the same people as you. Just because we were born in the Middle East doesn’t mean we deserve to be murdered. And we want the world to [to] know it and stop supporting the regime. »
In Halifaxthe show of support for the Iranian people moved some protesters to tears, said Reza Rahimi, who lost his mother-in-law when Flight 752 was shot down.
“[Locals and] immigrants from all nations and races stood by our side,” Rahimi said.
“Three years after losing my mother-in-law overseas, I’m not saying it moves us forward – we would never move forward – but it will help put something on the pain.”
Similar protests unfolded Saturday in other Canadian cities, including Montreal, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. All over the world, cities in countries like Australia, France, Germany, Italy, UK and USA have been also planned to host gatherings.
With files from Christian Paas-Lang, Jane Gerster, Lukas Wall, Jenn Allen, Samantha Schwientek, Chad Pawson, Eva Lam and The Canadian Press