Hundreds of people attended two separate rallies in front of the B.C. legislature on Sunday on the ongoing Gaza conflict, one calling for a ceasefire and the other for the release of Israeli hostages.
About 950 people marched through downtown Victoria on Sunday afternoon with signs and Palestinian flags, before gathering at the legislature.
The protesters accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier David Eby of standing by while a genocide unfolds in the Middle East, and took aim at members of the media for their coverage of the conflict.
“Every time the media lies, a family in Gaza dies,” they chanted while marching down Government Street.
Near the end of the rally, protesters cheered at news that B.C. NDP delegates, who had gathered for their convention in the Victoria Conference Centre just a few blocks away, had overwhelmingly endorsed an emergency resolution calling on the B.C. NDP to ask the federal government to back an immediate ceasefire.
Yahya Odatallah, president of the Muslim Student Association at the University of Victoria, said in a speech at the rally that the NDP vote shows demonstrations make a difference. “We’ll be here every week until a ceasefire does happen.”
Less than 90 minutes after the pro-Palestine rally ended, people began gathering for the second demonstration in support of the 240 hostages taken by Hamas militants during the Oct. 7 attacks.
Close to 400 people stood along the Belleville Street sidewalk in the fading light, holding up posters of Israeli hostages and heart-shaped balloons.
Vigil organizer Noa Marnin Gilad, co-director of Congregation Emanu-El’s Hebrew school, said while attendees hold many different viewpoints, everyone was united in their support for the hostages. “Our hearts have been stuck in a tunnel for five weeks now with all of them.”
There were no speakers at the event, but at one point, a group began singing songs and prayers in Hebrew, including the song Gesher Tzar Me’od, a well-known tune about resilience and peace.
Gilad said police had asked that the vigil be moved to later in the evening so it would not overlap with the first demonstration. “We got a lot of feedback from unhappy people in our community for doing that.”
Rabbi Meir Kaplan of the Chabad of Vancouver Island said he attended the vigil to remind people of why Israel got into the war in the first place. “Hundreds of our brothers and sisters, babies and infants were killed.”
Kaplan said he’s puzzled about why so many people attend pro-Palestinian rallies and demonstrations in Victoria after the Hamas attack on Oct. 7. “I thought the entire world would unite and say that this kind of evil needs to be destroyed.”
MP Laurel Collins, who was at the vigil, said it’s important to show solidarity with everyone affected by the crisis, adding she plans to attend a pro-Palestine demonstration but has yet to do so due to scheduling conflicts.
More than 12,700 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks in Gaza since Oct. 7, with another 4,000 missing, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in the West Bank, which co-ordinates with officials in the Health Ministry of Hamas-run Gaza.
About 1,200 people were killed on the Israeli side, mainly civilians during the Oct. 7 attack, in which Hamas took some 240 captives back into Gaza. The Israeli military said 66 of its soldiers have been killed in Gaza ground operations.
More than 1.7 million people — nearly three quarters of Gaza’s population — have been displaced, with 900,000 packing into crowded UN-run shelters, according to the UN.
Violence also has surged in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where attacks by Jewish settlers are on the rise and where more than 200 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war, mostly in gun battles triggered by Israeli military raids.
— with files from AP