Thousands of people packed Toronto’s Mel Lastman Square to hear politicians from all levels of government express their support for Israel and condemn the violence of Hamas terrorists after a unprecedented attack on the Jewish state.
“Let me state clearly and unequivocally that Canada stands with Israel,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told the crowd on Monday, Oct.9. “That means that we recognize Israel’s right to defend itself. It means that we call for the hostages who were seized in this vile, horrific attack to be released immediately.”
“Let me be very clear, as the Prime Minister has been, that glorification of terror has no place in Canada. That is not who we are, that is not what Canada is, there is no space for that here.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had a similar message at a pro-Israel rally in Ottawa the same evening.
“Let me be very clear. Hamas terrorists are not a resistance. They aren’t freedom fighters, they are terrorists and no one in Canada should be supporting them, much less celebrating them.”
Since Oct. 7, more than 900 people in Israel have been killed, more than 2,800 wounded and over 100 are believed to have been kidnapped and taken to Gaza. Several speakers remarked that the toll was the greatest single loss of Jewish civilians since the Holocaust.
Two Canadians, Alexandre Look of Montreal, and Ben Mizrachi from Vancouver, were among those killed at a music festival. Two Canadians have been reported missing and are feared kidnapped, including Vivian Silver, originally from Winnipeg.
Toronto Police Services estimated at least 15,000 people attended the Toronto rally, a UJA Federation of Greater Toronto spokesperson said. Security was tight, with main streets around the square closed for several blocks, and scores of police officers and private security officers visible.
Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow took the stage and was greeted with a loud and prolonged chorus of boos. Chow’s office had posted on X shortly after the attack: “We must also acknowledge Palestinian pain and severe loss during this time. Our thoughts are with Toronto citizens, both Jewish and Palestinian, who have loved ones back home.”
The statement was deleted a few hours later.
City Councillor James Pasternak introduced Chow and pleaded with the crowd to “be respectful.”
“We need our mayor to support our community, to keep our community safe, to keep Israel safe. Our mayor has a key role in making sure that we are safe in our synagogues, in our schools, in our retail outlets and taking on the anti-Israel mob that is harassing us at every corner,” Pasternak said.
Earlier in the day, a pro-Palestinian march had started at Toronto City Hall, despite not having a permit. Chow condemned the march on social media.
As the noise continued, Chow persevered, expressing solidarity with Toronto’s Jewish community. Flags at Toronto City Hall were to be flown at half-mast and the Toronto sign was lit up in blue-and-white, she said.
“Let me be clear, I unequivocally condemn the attacks in the strongest possible terms,” she said.
As well, Chow said she will be introducing a motion at this week’s council meeting to establish protective zones around houses of worship and religious schools “to ensure that all Torontonians feel safe when they attend worship and prayer.”
The most enthusiastic welcome of the evening was reserved for Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman, the deputy party leader who represents Thornhill.
“Israel has the right to defend itself against these attackers and retaliate, as any country would,” she said.
“I might not be your MP, but I will always be your voice in Parliament and when they stop being your voice and the calls for de-escalation and proportionality start, I will be your voice.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, accompanied by Toronto-area members of his caucus, also received a warm welcome from the crowd.
“The last few days we’ve seen hate rallies celebrating the slaughtering and kidnapping of Israeli people. It’s reprehensible, it’s disgusting, these rallies have no place in Ontario, they have no place in Canada,” he said to loud applause.
Rallies in support of Israel are being held across Canada, from Vancouver to Halifax.
In Montreal, about 2,500 people attended a solidarity rally on Oct. 9.
Federation CJA president Steve Sebag set the defiant tone of the evening with his opening remarks, which received prolonged applause.
“This madness cannot repeat itself every couple of years, enough is enough. To those in the coming days and weeks that will spew all sorts of condemnations against Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself, we politely tell you to fuck off,” he said.
“If your bleeding heart only beats when Jews are slaughtered and weak then, too bad. We are strong, we are proud, we are united and we stand with Israel.
“To the imbeciles dancing in the streets of Ramallah, Mississauga or Montreal, you’re just proving to everyone that a just solution to the Palestinian conflict is not what you’re looking for, rather you dream of our ancestral home without any Jews. To you, I also say fuck off. It’s never happening.”
Among those who attended the Montreal rally was Rabbi Boris Dolin, leader of Congregation Dorshei Emet, a Reconstructionist synagogue.
“In our community, we are a liberal synagogue and we have worked for years to promote peace and justice. We have worked with Palestinians, and we have many members who support human rights and have just been devastated by this,” he told The CJN.
“We want everyone to know that even liberal Jews who have worked with Palestinians and support Palestinian equality and peace are still against the terrorism and believe that this is a tragedy unparalleled… and support the people who have been devastated by this.”
Yaacov Bauer said his reason for attending the rally was deeply personal. “I came tonight to show solidarity with Israel, especially in light of how many friends and family in Israel I have and in light of the loss that my family just suffered. My brother’s nephew was just killed in battle yesterday.
“I feel pride in Montreal’s Jewish community, and its full diversity which has all shown up in solidarity, regardless of their leanings, right or left. Everyone showed up together, to have the unity we need in the world within the Jewish community.”
With files from Avi Finegold in Montreal.