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Protesters travelled from all across Ontario, Quebec, and even the eastern provinces to attend a noontime rally outside Ottawa’s city hall and then march on Canada’s Parliament buildings. They welcomed the president with banners and chants, like ‘war criminal, go home’ and ‘drop Bush, not bombs’.
At the rally protesters spoke against Bush’s decision to invade Iraq (Canada decided against sending troops to Iraq, a decision supported by the majority of the country), the behaviour of the US military and the president’s hope that Canada will sign up to America’s missile defence programme. Martin has promised an open debate in the House of Commons on Canada’s role in missile defence.
Ottawa’s downtown was brought to a standstill as the march, with Neil Young’s ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’ blaring on a sound truck, wound its way to Parliament Hill. The highlight of the march was the toppling of a 3 metre-high papier maché Bush effigy parodying the toppling of Saddam’s statue the moment war ‘ended’ last April. The Bush statue was quickly destroyed by stomping protesters.
Some marchers decided to take more direct action and made their way to the nearby Chateau Laurier hotel, where Bush was supposed to be speaking. Police tactical units blocked protesters from entering the hotel. Some bottles and several paint balloons were thrown at police, who responded with pushing and pepper spray.
As the sun faded, the action moved back to Parliament Hill for a candlelight vigil. Demonstrators were joined by New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, independent MP Carolyn Parrish, and US war resister Brandon Hughey. Parrish, notorious for her anti-Bush statements that got her expelled from the Liberal Party last month, drew the loudest cheers from the crowd. She reiterated her opposition to missile defence and called shield supporters a ‘coalition of the idiots’.
The demonstrations in Ottawa were largely peaceful. There were no major incidents and police reported only 21 arrests.