Lebanese Canadians hold vigil in Toronto to remember victims of Beirut explosion
TORONTO -- Lebanese Canadians gathered at Nathan Phillips Square Saturday evening for a candlelight vigil to remember the victims of the Beirut explosion that left more than 100 people dead and thousands more injured.
After hearing about the blast on Tuesday, Julia Chakra said she realized that she needed to do something to remember the victims despite being so far away from Lebanon.
“I realized a vigil to pay tribute to all those who have lost their lives, and all those who are still suffering would be the most appropriate,” said Chakra, one of the co-organizers of the vigil.
“And I want to use this platform to raise awareness about the aid that Canada can provide, that the citizens can find and people around the world.”
Tuesday’s explosion that damaged much of the city and displaced thousands of residents appeared to have been caused by the ignition of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored at the capital’s port for more than six years.
The search for dozens of missing people continued at the site of the blast Saturday.
Beirut officials estimated that the blast caused an estimated $10 billion to $15 billion in damage, adding to the struggles of a country already dealing with a coronavirus pandemic and facing an unprecedented economic and financial crisis.
At the vigil, hundreds of people carried Lebanese flags and lit candles to pay tribute to those killed in the explosion. The Canadian and Lebanese national anthems were also played during the ceremony.
Hamsa Diab, the founder of Taste of the Middle East, a not for profit organization, said her heart is aching for the Lebanese people.
“It took 30 years to rebuild Lebanon and only 30 seconds to destroy, but my love for my Lebanon and belief in my people will never be shattered,” said Diab, who immigrated to Canada when she was 12 years old.
Several provincial and municipal officials also spoke at the vigil, including Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who was there on behalf of Mayor John Tory and the Toronto City Council.
He said the impact of the tragedy is not only being felt by the residents of Lebanon but also by Torontonians.
“We recognize that the Lebanese community in Toronto is especially hurt by the explosion in Beirut,” Minnan-Wong said.
“We understand the horror you felt as you saw those shocking images, and you worried and worked to hear from your family and friends back in Lebanon.”
Minnan-Wong said the city supports the full investigation of the incident to ensure those who are responsible for the explosion are held accountable.
“I want them to know that we are here tonight, so they know that they are not alone. We stand with them now,” he said.
Lebanese Canadian business leaders also attended the vigil. . On Friday, they formed a coalition to raise money to support the relief efforts in Beirut.
Rola Dagher, the president of Cisco Systems Canada, said the past four days have been difficult on many Lebanese Canadians. She said that she had received social media messages from Lebanon asking for help.
“We are doing our best to help you, Lebanon,” Dagher said. “We need you to stay strong. Do not lose faith and never, ever, ever give up."
She also demanded the Canadian government to do more to help her home country.
The federal government also announced on Saturday it will match all individual donations from Canadians to relief efforts in Lebanon. It is part of the $5 million emergency aid pledge by Ottawa earlier this week.
Minister Ahmed Hussen, who was also at the vigil, said Canada will stand with Lebanon and the Lebanese people.
There was a video tribute, and a moment silence was observed for the victims. The Toronto sign has also been lit in the colours of the Lebanese flag.
- with files from The Associated Press