'Sisters of the north': Canadian women join massive march on Washington
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, January 21, 2017 6:42AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, January 21, 2017 4:38PM EST
WASHINGTON -- Hundreds of Canadian women who carted signs and flags to the U.S. capital for a massive rally for women's rights were greeted Saturday with cheers and shouts of gratitude by Americans supporting the march.
As the group wound down the streets of Washington, D.C. -- many wearing pink knit hats or carrying signs emblazoned with the maple leaf and the slogan "sisters of the north" -- residents came out onto their porches to offer words of encouragement, and in at least one case, free coffee.
Some American marchers expressed surprise that the group had travelled so far to take part in what's been dubbed the Women's March on Washington.
Many simply yelled "thank you Canada" as they spotted the women, and at least one shouted "take us with you!"
Ujyara Farooq, 22, said she hoped the enthusiasm on display Saturday would translate into lasting change.
"I've seen too many events just be inspiring and then people just go home and that's it," the Mississauga, Ont., resident said.
"I do want this event to have some substantial impact afterwards and that's what I'm looking forward to -- to connecting with a lot of different people, to see that after this march, after we go home, what can we do next, because the fight is definitely not over because we get together once."
Roughly 600 Canadians, most of them women, made the overnight trek on chartered buses from Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Windsor, Ont., to participate in the march. Others made their way to the U.S. capital by car or plane.
A District of Columbia official said a massive turnout at the march forced a sudden change of plans, adding that more than half a million people could be on the National Mall, though low cloud cover made it difficult to estimate because aerial photographs were impossible.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the event, said there would be no formal march led from the protest stage near the Capitol, though the crowd was still expected to move toward the Ellipse, an area of the Mall in front of the White House.
By mid-afternoon, some of the crowd had dispersed through side streets. Some tired Canadian marchers returned to their buses early.
The rally was billed as supporting women's rights rather than protesting Donald Trump, the newly crowned U.S. president, who was officially sworn in Friday.
Smaller groups of Trump supporters remained in Washington for the weekend. Many milled about the marchers as they wandered through the downtown area. Their trademark red caps drew the occasional frown or snide remark, though most exchanges were civil.
A couple of marchers held up a Barack Obama "Yes We Can" sign as a flatbed truck of Trump supporters rolled past the theatre where, in a time of far greater national division, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
Marlita Gogan, who came to Washington from Houston for the inauguration, said police advised her family not to wear their "Make America Great Again Hats" as they walked through crowds of protesters.
"I think it's very oppressive," she said of the march atmosphere. "They can have their day, but I don't get it."
Many Canadian participants said they were spurred to act by Trump's controversial comments during the election campaign.
Sadaf Jamal, 38, said many people felt marginalized as a result of the campaign and she wants to help them "stand proud."
"I'm a Muslim woman and that is why I'm marching, because I want to empower all Muslim women," she said on a bus from Toronto.
A dual Canadian-American citizen, Elizabeth Wolfenden, said she cried for hours after Trump was elected.
The 18-year-old, who has many relatives in the U.S., said she initially planned to march with her mother but decided to make the trip alone after her mother suffered an injury.
The rally, she said, is her first trip alone.
"I just really want to take part in history," she said.
"I think this will be historical and I want to say that I was there, that I did something, that I tried to make a difference and I let my voice be heard, that I joined a movement that I think is really important."
Katina Binette drove from Montreal with four friends to show solidarity with the women's rights movement in the U.S.
Seeing the engagement, especially among youth, has been encouraging, she said.
Binette said her group was concerned they wouldn't make it after three of their friends were turned back at the border Friday night.
They were questioned for more than an hour and fingerprinted, she said. Border guards asked the three whether they were for or against Trump and their plans to take part in the march were taken as opposition, she said.
"It's pretty surprising, they all had valid Canadian passports and no criminal record," she said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection would not confirm the incident citing the Privacy Act, but it said in an email to The Canadian Press that the agency "strives to treat all travellers with respect and in a professional manner, while maintaining the focus of our mission to protect all citizens and visitors in the United States."
Marches were also taking place Saturday in many major Canadian cities as well as smaller communities.
In Toronto, thousands gathered outside the Ontario legislature holding signs -- some attached to hockey sticks -- that called for respect for women's rights.
"I did the 50s. We are NOT going back there," read a sign carried by 87-year-old Cleo Corcoran, who said she has five daughters, 10 granddaughters and a great-granddaughter.
"Women are half the population and yet we are so often pushed to the back of the crowd," she said. "Now we've got to come in front."
-with files from Alexander Panetta in Washington and The Associated Press