As the crowd turns from John Street onto Front, the march feels much larger than it is. Many have splintered off for now into animated conversations, but a few of the 250 or so people who've dragged themselves out on this cold Monday, November 14, are almost levitating with excitement or anger.
The scene around the corner is anticlimactic. Across the street, the Metro Convention Centre appears almost deserted, underlining the fact that people have gathered to protest the presence of someone who isn't even here.
Inside is the United Jewish Communities' annual general assembly. UJC organizers provoked the ire of the newly minted Coalition Against Israel's War Crimes by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to speak. Sharon declined, but word is he will be appearing via video telephone.
Chants rotate between "Hey, Sharon, you will see, Palestine will be free" and "Zionism is racism!" Someone navigates into the street, is immediately apprehended by officers and then, to my surprise, is walked to the end of the barricade and let go. Despite the apparent invention of a fun new game, no one follows suit. Neither side really wants a fight.
I can't help but wonder how this might look to some: a bunch of people yelling at a more or less random gathering of Jewish folk. But it passes. Any predictable accusations of anti-Semitism were waylaid by the preceding Metro Hall rally, where speakers were strategically chosen from the chosen people.
Susanne Weiss, who grew up in occupied France during the second world war, fights back tears as she speaks. "I feel the plight of Palestinians especially because of the destruction I witnessed," she says.
"The great Jewish philosopher Hillel," intones lawyer Michael Mandel, "once asked, 'If I am for myself alone, what am I?' The answer: absolutely nothing. If you can't respect the rights of Palestinians, at least respect your own laws. It's illegal to move civilian populations into occupied territory," he says.
A group called the Coalition Against International War Crimes filed a hefty brief with the federal government before Sharon's anticipated visit, invoking Canada's Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act. They argued that Sharon's political career - most notably his tenure as defence minister during the 1982 massacres in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon - were grounds to deny him entry to Canada.
Does the government see their point? "The terms of the act are to make sure that people aren't able to flee to Canada and to escape punishment," says an audibly irritated Steven Heckbert by phone from Immigration Minister Joe Volpe's office. "If someone's coming on a diplomatic mission, they are not emigrating to Canada. There are people who have accused Nelson Mandela of war crimes.'
The crowd filters back to Metro Hall, and soon a group of youths wearing kafiyehs are dancing in a circle and singing joyously in Arabic. People disperse, but small, personal demonstrations continue. High-pitched celebratory warblings and drumbeats echo off the towers of King Street.