A group of protesters gathered in front of the U.S. Consulate General to mark a decade since the establishment of the notorious prison.
“It’s a beautiful day for a demonstration,” Amnesty International Toronto Chair Shanaaz Gokool said to an RCMP officer as a group of protesters gathered, Wednesday morning, across the street from the U.S. Consulate on University Avenue.
The protest, which was organized as part of an international solidarity movement by Amnesty International, marked a decade since the first prisoners were brought to Guantanamo Bay back in 2002. In addition to raising awareness of the anniversary, the protesters were there to demand that President Obama make good on his claim that he would close the detention centre.
“In 2009, Obama committed to closing Guantanamo Bay no later than January 22, 2010,” Gokool said. “We’re now in 2012, and we’re here to remind him of that promise.” The facility currently houses 171 prisoners, 11 of whom have been there for 10 years without charges.
Fifty-odd protesters stood with signs denouncing the centre and demanding that Prime Minister Harper put pressure on the U.S. government to release the remaining detainees. A group of women with signs calling for the release of Canadian citizen Omar Khadr included Khadr’s older sister Zaynab. “He should have been transferred [to Canada] at the end of October, but the U.S. says they need to make sure that Canada has enough security measures. We’ve been waiting for so long,” she said. The end of October, she added, was the last time she’d been able to speak to her brother. “The Canadian government has been pretty silent. Every other Western citizen [at Guantanamo] has been repatriated. He’s the first child soldier to be tried in a military tribunal since the war.”
Protesters nearby signed a poster that will be sent to the White House, while a handful of York University students put on orange detainee jumpsuits provided by Amnesty International’s head office. “We’re from the Middle East—from Lebanon,” said two students that were getting into the suits. “We wanted to come here today to represent the Middle Eastern people, as well as the detainees from the other 48 countries, that weren’t given a fair trial or the right to speak.”
Wednesday’s protest coincided with Amnesty International demonstrations in Ottawa, Vancouver, and Washington, D.C. A day-long event is being held in Montreal today, and will be broadcast live on Goodness TV.
While Toronto’s protest was small, Gokool attributed the modest turnout to timing. “It’s 11 a.m. on a weekday, so it’s kind of tough,” she said, adding that Amnesty International was banking on students being the main attendees. Several seniors and a few parents with small children filled out the group.
What the protesters lacked in numbers, though, they made up in determination. “We’re making the point that human rights must be respected,” said Andy, a demonstrator who waved an Amnesty International banner in the direction of the Consulate. “I think Obama got a free pass for the first year, but that’s ending. We’re a small group, but we’re a brave group.”