Canadians journey to U.S. to join protest
Published on Monday, August 30, 2004 by The Toronto Star
Canadians Journey to U.S. to Join Protest
by Vivian Song
 

 New York--The U.S. Customs officer boards the bus and makes his way down the aisle, glancing at select people's passports. It's 9:04 p.m.

"What are you protesting about now?" he asks in a Southern accent.

"The Republican National Convention," answers the passenger closest to him.

"So, you're looking to get arrested are you?" he smirks.

The bus is quiet. Everyone remains mum lest a misdirected sneeze or look be misinterpreted by one of the officials who holds the fate of Bus 3 in his hands.

Bus anchor and co-organizer James Clark had coached everyone earlier on how to handle customs officials on the bus.

"Don't be confrontational. Answer seriously, soberly and say we're going down to participate in a peaceful, legal demonstration," he told everyone shortly before pulling in.

The passengers are travelling to New York with the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War and have staked out a spot on the Bush Bus 2004 to join thousands of like-minded people on the eve of the Republican Convention.

Siraha Saeowala, 40, of Toronto, said he came for his children, who ask him nightly why airplanes are bombing cities in Iraq, and what happens to the children whose parents are killed in the war.

"Politics are hijacked by businessmen. Because of their policies, human beings are suffering. If I didn't come, I'd feel humiliated in front of my children for not doing my part."

An hour and half later, 42 people get off the first of three buses to arrive at the Niagara border.

They recite the rehearsed line to customs officials who stand waiting to poke and probe protesters' knapsacks with their blue latex gloves. Some officers are gruff, ill-humoured and disdainful, others more sympathetic to the 141 people travelling from Toronto.

The people lined up against the wall of the customs building range in age between 17 and 58. They're students, teachers, professionals, Indians, Asians, white, black, people in Birkenstocks and people in button-down shirts and khakis.

11:32 p.m.: Everyone on Bus 3 has passed through customs.

Several people on the bus are refused entry into the United States.

It's now 2:31 a.m. The final bus to clear has to wait almost nine hours before starting their trip, and three people from their group are denied entry.

One of them, a Saudi-born Canadian, is interrogated for six hours, fingerprinted and photographed before being sent back home.

Perhaps hurdles like these are why Purva Sharma's mother was anxious and worried about her daughter participating in the demonstration.

"We live in a democracy and we're proud. Being involved in this is part of our responsibility as a democratic citizen," said the 19-year-old University of Toronto student.

"The things that go on in the U.S. affect us a lot. It's solidarity, not against the people, but against the government."

"It's important for Canadians to go and make their presence known, telling them, `You've got to change your government or it'll be a disaster," said protester Doris Bradley, a former math teacher.

The 17-hour journey has culminated to this point.

The sweltering, unforgiving heat bears down on marchers as they crawl up Seventh Ave. American onlookers look curiously over at the Canadian contingent as they wave their banner that reads, "Say no to war."

Their chants "War resisters welcome here," and "Opposing Bush ain't no crime, we'll take you in Canada anytime," draw mostly smiling faces but also some confused expressions.

Toronto teachers Lisa Furdyk and Vanessa Tellier wave Canadian flags proudly while keeping one hand on the banner.

"I've never seen anything like this," Furdyk says smiling. "It's amazing, some people are really surprised we're here and they're thanking us," Tellier adds.

Jerry Allison is one such thankful American.

"I love the fact that Canadians came in solidarity. Canada does not want to rule the world."

© 2004 Toronto Sun

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