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Protesters at Toronto's U.S. Consulate urge Canadians to do more

Last Updated Jan 30, 2017 at 4:52 pm EDT

In the face of President Donald Trump’s new immigration policy, Canadians are being urged to pressure their own government to do more.

At a protest outside the U.S. Consulate in Toronto on Monday, demonstrators were told not to get complacent in the face of the U.S. travel ban. The controversial American ban affects people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, and prevents them from entering the U.S. It went into effect immediately, leaving thousands of people in limbo.

The Toronto demonstration began around 8 a.m. on University Avenue, near Dundas Street.

One organizer called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to repeal the Safe Third Country agreement, arguing the border needs to be open. The Canada-U.S. deal was implemented in 2004, and means Canada can turn back potential refugees at the Canada-U.S. border on the basis they must pursue their claims in America, the country where they first arrived.

If it was repealed, those prevented from entering the U.S. because of Trump’s ban could ask Canada to take them in.

Huda Idrees, a Muslim immigrant who works in tech, said that many of the people who were affected by Trump’s plan are people in her field. They have the proper permits and visas, she said, but were still denied entry.

“This weekend, hundreds of tech leaders … asked our government to provide temporary visas to workers who are stranded. It’s not their fault. I’m asking you to reach out to your members of Parliament … to provide visas,” Idrees told the crowd.

She also called for the creation of more sanctuary cities (where people are not asked for their immigration status when accessing services), and for people to reach out on a personal level.

The size and diversity of the crowd, Idrees said, was heartening. She encouraged everyone there to speak to someone “who does not look like you, who does not think like you.”

The diversity of the crowd, and the myriad issues surrounding immigration, were a key point for many speakers. One woman addressed colonialism, and asked the crowd to pause to “give some respect to land, and space that we’re occupying.”

Later in the demonstration, a call-and-response chant of “Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” was followed by a moment of silence for the victims of a fatal Quebec City shooting. The shooting on Sunday night happened as people were praying inside a mosque.

The Consulate preemptively shut down operations on Monday in response to the planned protest. Consular officials said there will be no visa or American citizen services operations and previously scheduled appointments are being rebooked.

The rally, which was organized by community activist Dave Meslin, was posted on Facebook. Around 3,400 people indicated they will attend. About 1,000 people showed up.

“Anyone interested in peacefully shutting down the U.S. Consulate in Toronto, Monday morning? No speeches, no violence. We just sit down, on the sidewalk, and block both entrances. Shut the whole thing down,” Mesline wrote on Facebook.

“Trump’s racism needs a very swift and very firm response, from all of us. If not now, when?”

The American state department is also warning U.S. citizens that another large demonstration is expected at the U.S. embassy in Ottawa at noon.

On Friday, Trump signed an executive order which bars admission of Syrian refugees and suspends travel to the U.S. by people from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and Libya on national security grounds.

Over the weekend, tens of thousands of people rallied in cities across the U.S. against Trump’s new policy. The protests took over over downtown streets, as well as at airports where many Americans are finding that their relatives are not being allowed into the country.

With files from The Canadian Press