Nine people were arrested on Parliament Hill on Saturday morning as protesters and counter-protesters clashed over plans by the federal government to endorse the United Nations’ Global Compact for migration.
Of the nine, eight were released without charges, but were issued trespass notices, meaning they are banned from Parliament Hill for 90 days. The lone person transferred to Ottawa Police Service by Parliamentary Protective Services was charged him with assaulting a police officer.
For a little more than an hour, beginning at about 10 a.m., participants on both sides of metal barriers set up to separate them taunted one another, mostly with insults and name-calling. Nearly 50 RCMP police in riot gear and at least as many regular RCMP and Parliamentary Protective Services officers did their best to keep them apart.
However, tempers occasionally ran hot, leading to some physical altercations, while police separated combatants and, on a few occasions, hauled them away. One counter-protester, Larry Wasslen, claimed protesters took his banner, which read “Death to Fascism. Freedom to the People.”
The protesters, who had registered plans for their demonstration with police, were those opposed to Canada’s support of the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The counter-protesters were those in favour of the pact or at least against the protesters.
“I didn’t realize that these were the white supremacists,” Wasslen said, motioning to the group opposite. “They grabbed my sign and I tried to hold onto it, and then various police officers grabbed me and pulled me back.
“I was trying to protect my banner,” he added, “and instead of the cops protecting my freedom of speech, they supported the white supremacists. People have a right to live in peace and dignity, and these white supremacists are trying to deny that right.”
Were it only that simple. As one counter-protester shouted, “Nazi scum off our streets,” one of her intended targets, who would only identify himself as Craig, replied, “You don’t know who I am. You don’t know anything about me.”
Craig had travelled from Toronto with his 19-year-old son for the demonstration, and denied any accusations that he was racist.
“I disagree with Canada signing the UN pact,” he said. “That’s why I’m here.
“I have no problem with people who want to come here and who want to work,” he added, “but I live in Toronto and I’ll tell you that, right now, every hotel and university dorm room is full of outsiders and nobody’s trying to speak English.
“We all know what’s right: Work hard, do what you do, pay your taxes and live hard, and I’m all on your team. But put me down because I disagree with you? Come on, man, that’s childish and silly. My mom disagrees with my politics, but I don’t hate my mother and she doesn’t hate me. You can have different political stances and still talk.
“I’m a Leafs fan. That’s probably the worst thing you can knock me for.”
On the other side of the fence, one counter-protester drew epithets when he stood in front of the anti-UN pact demonstrators and simulated having sex with the flag pole he carried. As riot police began pushing back on counter-protesters chanting, “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here,” Tara Hurford agreed that more dialogue between the two sides was necessary.
“I’m here principally as a citizen who believes in humanity,” said Hurford, who works as an animator with Development and Peace, an international Catholic-based development organization. “I believe in free speech, but I think there’s a fine line between free speech and hate speech, and I don’t know that the answer is in not giving them a space. I think we need to hear their voices and listen to them, rather than just yelling at them and telling them they’re scum. We need to look deeply at their concerns and why they are afraid of refugees.
“My hope,” she added, “is that we could engage in honest conversation about what the fears are and what the possibilities are, too.”
If Saturday’s demonstration had represented an opportunity to do that, it failed, with players on both sides doing their best to provoke counterparts. One protester, Barrhaven senior Darla Demaries, and her husband left the demonstration out of fear for her physical safety. Demaries said she decided to take part in her first protest out of her concerns over crime and what she described as Canada’s open borders.
“We moved to Ottawa from Montreal in 1982, and it was very rare to hear of any crime then, and now it’s daily … shootings.
“I’m totally against the migration pact,” she added, “because then our borders are completely open and God knows who will come in. Nobody’s safe.”
There was no official estimate of the combined size of the two groups, but it appeared that fewer than 300 people participated.
The counter-protesters left shortly after 11 a.m., and marched to the Ottawa police station on Elgin Street. By then, Demaries and her husband had left the protest, too, opting instead for a tour of Parliament Hill.