Protests serve as a powerful means of voicing dissent and advocating for change. People protest for a myriad of reasons, ranging from political and social concerns to economic and environmental matters. By providing a platform for underrepresented voices, protests generate public awareness and draw attention to neglected issues. The biggest protests in Canadian history offer an outlet for disappointment when government or corporate responses prove inadequate.
Protests enact change by exerting public pressure on those in authority. The participation of numerous individuals testifies to the widespread support of a particular cause. This can influence public sentiment and placing decision-makers under intense scrutiny to act. Media coverage amplifies the issue’s visibility, propelling it into the limelight of social discourse. In addition, protests foster camaraderie and unity among attendees, forging a collective sense of objective and strengthening the movement.
In Canada, the biggest protests spark tangible and enduring changes – like legislation, policy reforms, or changes in societal norms. These protests have paved the way for monumental social and political progress throughout history by addressing the core grievances of their demonstrators. This includes women’s suffrage, civil rights, and even the battle against apartheid. In addition to achieving immediate goals, these demonstrations leave a mark on society. We do this by inspiring future generations to keep fighting for justice and advancement.
Here is a list of the biggest protests in Canadian history.
What are large protests?
We’ll judge the biggest protests in Canadian history based on these four criteria:
Gauging the success of a protest often relies on the number of attendees. A large turnout indicates that the protest effectively mobilized people in support of a particular cause. This makes it more difficult for policymakers and other authorities to disregard.
High attendance showcases the potency and variety of the protest movement. The biggest protests in Canadian history build momentum and further backing in society.
The length of a protest determines its efficacy. Protests that persist create ongoing pressure on decision-makers and amplify the visibility and recognition of the issue being addressed. Lengthier protests also pave the way for creating unity and connections amongst activists, fostering long-term sustenance for the movement.
Most media coverage
Influencing awareness levels and public sentiment, media coverage is vital to a protest’s success. Protests that receive extensive media attention are more likely to be acknowledged by decision-makers and the general public, while further accelerating momentum and support for the cause in question.
Assessing a protest’s effectiveness ultimately boils down to its repercussions on the political and social landscapes. A successful protest leads to measurable outcomes like alterations in legislation or policies, heightened public awareness, or shifts in societal norms.
The largest protests in Canadian history contribute to long-term effects by inspiring activists, nurturing networks and alliances, and informing broader political discussions.
List of biggest protests in Canada
- Gaza Ceasefire Protest (2023)
- Canada Truckers Protest (2022)
- Black Lives Matter Protests (2020)
- Canada Pipeline Protests
- Canada Indigenous Protests
- Climate Strike Protests (2019)
- March for Our Lives (2018)
- Women’s March (2017)
- Toronto Pride Protest (2016)
- Idle No More (2013)
- Quebec Student Protests (2012)
- Occupy Protests (2011)
- Winnipeg General Strike (1919)
Gaza Ceasefire Protest (2023)
Biggest Canadian protest in 2023
Canadian cities saw protests amid intensifying conflict between Israel and Hamas. Pro-Palestinian demonstrators in multiple locations demanded an end to hostilities, showing support for Gazaans. Montreal’s Dorchester Square hosted a Ceasefire Now protest, with similar events in Toronto, Antigonish, N.S., and Yellowknife. Toronto hosted a rally supporting Israel. This rally was organized by the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.
In Montreal, protesters waved Palestinian flags and sought justice, focusing on Gaza’s children’s challenges. At Toronto’s pro-Israel rally, attendees shared personal connections to the conflict and called for the release of Hamas hostages. Holocaust survivors condemned Israel’s actions at pro-Palestine gatherings at Nathan Phillips Square. Participants of pro-Palestinian demonstrations urged an end to Gaza’s siege and discussed recent hate incidents targeting Jews and Muslims.
During these protests, Canadians connected to the conflict were reported waiting to leave Gaza. Global Affairs Canada confirmed hundreds of evacuations on Sunday. Protesters emphasized the extensive displacement of Gazans and how this conflict affected Canadians with regional ties. This included those captured as hostages by Hamas.
Since October 2023, the National Council of Canadian Muslims has noted a surge in hate incidents. Ultimately, Canada’s protests showcased diverse opinions on the Israel-Hamas conflict along with expressions of solidarity and concerns about heightening tensions.
Canada Truckers Protest (2022)
Biggest Canadian protest in 2022
During early 2022, numerous Canadians protested against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions. A sizable convoy consisting of hundreds of vehicles journeyed across various provinces, culminating in a rally on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill on January 29th, 2022. The determined demonstrators demanded an end to all COVID-19 restrictions and mandates, occupying Ottawa’s downtown area.
In response, the Ontario Premier declared a state of emergency, and the Prime Minister invoked the Emergencies Act. Notably, both trucking industry representatives and labour groups denounced the convoy. Some participants faced charges of conspiring to murder RCMP officers, while others demanded the overthrow of Canada’s federal government.
The assembly of vehicles left Prince Rupert, Regina, Kenora, and Enfield, with some supporters even passing through Quebec. According to the Ottawa Police Service, the crowd shrank from 18,000 to 3,000 protesters on January 29th. It saw a decrease from 10,000 to 50,000 trucks on February 1st. Despite this decline, certain actions on January 29th drew widespread criticism—including disrespectful antics like dancing atop the National War Memorial’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and tarnishing Terry Fox’s statue with an inverted Canadian flag alongside a protest sign.
Ottawa residents recounted feelings of fear and confinement in their homes as the convoy spilled over from Parliament Hill into nearby residential neighbourhoods. Additionally, several businesses ceased operations due to safety concerns during the convoy’s arrival. Numerous investigations are ongoing concerning incidents that have garnered significant public attention—ranging from bribery and threats to assault, reckless driving, and arson.
Black Lives Matter Protests (2020)
Biggest Canadian protest in 2020
In 2020, Black Lives Matter protests swept across Canada, ignited by George Floyd’s murder in the United States. The demonstrators called for an end to systemic racism and law enforcement violence against Black and Indigenous Canadians. Major cities, such as Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, and Halifax, saw thousands of protesters marching through their streets.
Unfortunately, some peaceful protests were disrupted by police aggression and altercations with counter-demonstrators. In Toronto, one of the most diverse cities in Canada, over 300 protesters were detained by police, who assaulted them. Meanwhile, Vancouver residents endured tear gas and pepper spray from law enforcement. In Montreal, a car ploughed into a group of protesters, hurting several.
These demonstrations prompted a nationwide discussion about policing reform and racial equality. Police departments pledged to institute additional training and body cameras. However, critics believe that these reforms don’t extend far enough and advocate for broader action to combat systemic racism within Canadian institutions.
The Black Lives Matter movement in Canada also underscored the necessity for enhanced representation of Black Canadians within political and media circles. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was among several prominent figures who participated in the marches and expressed support for the cause. These protests led to continuous activism and advocacy efforts by organizations such as Black Lives Matter Toronto and the National Council of Canadian Muslims. These organizations were persistently pushing for transformative change.
Canada Pipeline Protests
Biggest environmental protests in Canada
The Trans Mountain pipeline demonstrations in Canada began in 2018 and lasted for a number of years. This was because campaigners and Indigenous communities sought to hinder the pipeline’s growth. Stretching from Alberta to British Columbia, the Canadian government-owned pipeline has sparked heated debates due to concerns regarding its effects on both the environment and Indigenous sovereignty.
Remarkably diverse, protesters against the Trans Mountain pipeline included environmentalists, Indigenous leaders, and concerned citizens. Demonstrations manifested themselves in various ways such as sit-ins, blockades, and marches. However, law enforcement frequently opposed these protestors leading to multiple arrests and charges.
Spurring these protests were a multitude of issues such as climate change apprehensions, the consequences of fossil fuel extraction, and the government’s inadequacy in engaging with Indigenous communities. Many perceived pipeline expansion as an ecological menace since it would augment the volume of oil transported through delicate ecosystems while exacerbating global greenhouse gas emissions.
Although the Trans Mountain pipeline protests did not ultimately impede pipeline expansion, they marked a crucial epoch of political and social mobilization in Canada. These demonstrations accentuated the ongoing strife faced by Indigenous communities and underlined the dire need for prompt action on climate change and environmental justice. Consequently, the legacy of the Trans Mountain pipeline protests continues to galvanize activism and championing for a greener and fairer future.
Canada Indigenous Protests
Biggest ongoing protests in Canada
For the past several decades, Canadian politics and society have been adorned with Indigenous protests. From land disputes weaving through environmental justice, Canadian Indigenous peoples have marched in the streets, leaving a trace of profound demands for their rights and sovereignty.
In 2016, the embers of resistance ignited by Standing Rock protests in the United States leapt across the border to Canada, sparking solidarity actions. It was as if Indigenous warriors and their allies commandeered stages upon pipelines and other infrastructures to vocalize their outrage against the encroachment of their ancestral lands. The spirited protests were harmonious symphonies of resistance and camaraderie, shining a spotlight on the pressing need for an equitable and everlasting future for Indigenous peoples.
Two years later, in 2018, the Trans Mountain pipeline protests emerged as a crescendo of Indigenous defiance. Many perceived the pipeline’s expansion as a villainous menace to Indigenous sovereignty and Mother Earth herself. Driven by these compelling motives, Indigenous communities and activists clashed against construction efforts. The resulting spectacle captured the nation’s gaze and underscored the perpetual fight for Indigenous rights and environmental justice in Canada.
By 2020, the Wet’suwet’en protests had burst onto centre stage, illuminating both Indigenous land disputes and their unyielding pursuit of autonomy. The impassioned demonstrations featured blockades of railways and other infrastructures as an encore to their protest against constructing a natural gas pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory. These potent acts of rebellion resonated deeply with messages of alliance-building and perseverance, shedding light on the unrelenting hurdles Indigenous peoples in Canada must conquer to protect their cherished homelands and resources.
Climate Strike Protests (2019)
Biggest Canadian protest in 2019
Initiated in 2019, the Canadian climate strike protests encompassed a series of large-scale demonstrations advocating for urgent action to tackle climate change. Fuelled by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg’s school strikes, these protests were spearheaded by young Canadians from coast to coast. They urged the government to minimize carbon emissions, safeguard biodiversity, and shift towards a green economy.
On September 27, 2019, Canada witnessed its largest climate strike as over 800,000 citizens marched through the streets. Spanning more than 200 locations across the country, protests erupted in cities such as Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto. This strike was just one component of a worldwide movement that mobilized millions of people to demand action to confront climate change.
The Canadian government has faced severe criticism for its inadequate climate change efforts. Protesters demanded more aggressive targets and immediate measures to slash greenhouse gas emissions. Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government pledged to combat climate change, many activists deemed their policies insufficient. The climate strike protests forced the government to adopt more resolute strategies in tackling the climate
March for Our Lives (2018)
Biggest Canadian protest in 2018
The March for Our Lives rallies in Canada were in solidarity with the student-led movement in the United States. This occurred after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018. These demonstrations called for tighter firearm regulations and enhanced security measures in educational institutions. Major Canadian urban centres such as Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, and Ottawa were sites of these protests, with thousands marching on the streets.
Participants throughout Canada encouraged their governments to make firm gun control decisions. They pointed to Canada’s own encounters with gun violence, like the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal and the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting. Demonstrators appealed to legislators to consider a potential ban on assault-style weapons and enforce background checks for firearm purchases, among others.
In Toronto, a diverse group of students and adults gathered, listening to speakers who shared their personal stories of gun-related episodes while promoting reform. The assembly honoured the victims of the Parkland tragedy as well as other incidents involving gun violence in both Canada and the United States. This was done through silence. Furthermore, a march towards the provincial parliament building took place where demonstrators participated in a sit-in to demand more robust gun control action.
The March for Our Lives events across Canada added an essential voice to a global initiative focused on ending gun violence. Although Canadian firearm regulations are considerably more rigid than those in the US, numerous activists and supporters believe that additional efforts can be introduced to decrease gun-related casualties and fatalities. These protests have spurred Canadian lawmakers to advance gun control measures to raise awareness about this critical issue.
Women’s March (2017)
Biggest Canadian protest in 2017
In January 2017, a powerful wave of protest surged across the Canadian landscape. This was fueled by the Women’s March movement born in our neighbours to the south. A show of sisterhood with the Women’s March on Washington, Canadians took to the streets following U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration. They championed women’s rights and gender equality while voicing their disquiet over the new administration’s stance on abortion, healthcare, and immigration.
One aspect unique to Canada’s fevered adoption of the Women’s March movement was how it shone a light on concerns particular to this remarkable nation. Indigenous women and girls in Canada wrestle with the ghastly spectre – chillingly elevated rates of violence and poverty. This spirited movement brought attention to these urgent plights while rallying supporters onward toward loftier goals: amplifying women’s voices in political office and standing toe-to-toe with regressive forces hindering gender equality and reproductive rights.
Canada’s Women’s March movement highlighted concerns unique to the nation. Take, for instance, the strikingly elevated levels of violence and poverty experienced by Indigenous women and girls. This movement immersed itself in addressing these urgent issues while simultaneously advocating for enhanced representation of women in politics – with a touch of Canadian panache. Furthermore, it fought tirelessly for initiatives promoting gender equality and safeguarding reproductive rights.
Toronto Pride Protest (2016)
Biggest Canadian protest in 2016
In 2016, Canada’s LGBTQ+ community commemorated Pride Month with a series of protests and demonstrations all across the nation. These events were organized in reaction to numerous concerns impacting the community, such as discrimination, violence, and unequal treatment under the law. Additionally, the protests served to celebrate LGBTQ+ culture, history, and identity.
The most sizeable Pride protest of 2016 occurred in Toronto, where tens of thousands of individuals gathered in the streets for the annual Pride Parade. This year’s event held particular significance as it represented the initial Pride celebration following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election, known for his strong support of LGBTQ+ rights. The parade showcased colourful floats, lively music, and spirited dancing, accompanied by speeches from community leaders and activists.
Nonetheless, the Pride parade experienced its share of controversy. The decision to permit police officers to participate while in uniform faced criticism from certain community members who cited issues with police brutality and discrimination against marginalized groups. Consequently, protesters staged a sit-in at the parade, demanding police exclusion from future events.
Despite this controversy, 2016’s Pride protests played a crucial role for Canada’s LGBTQ+ community. They discussed the ongoing challenges encountered by queer and trans people. They highlighted the necessity for continued activism and advocacy in pursuit of full equality and acceptance. These protests also celebrated LGBTQ+ identity, culture, and resilience while showcasing community strength and diversity.
Idle No More (2013)
Biggest Canadian protest in 2013
The Idle No More movement surfaced in Canada near 2012, responding to a proposed federal budget with significant changes to environmental regulations and Indigenous rights. Swiftly, the movement morphed into a nationwide grassroots movement featuring numerous protests, rallies, and events across the country throughout 2013. These demonstrations sought to shed light on the challenges Indigenous communities in Canada face while also pushing for increased acknowledgment of their rights and sovereignty.
Remarkably varied, the Idle No More protests encompassed participants from a wide range of Indigenous cultures, languages, and traditions. Non-Indigenous allies also supported the movement, standing in solidarity with calls for justice and equality. Demonstrations took on different forms like round dances, blockades, and hunger strikes, all organized through social media and other online channels.
A key issue propelling the Idle No More movement was the government’s disregard for consulting with Indigenous communities about decisions that directly affected them. The movement called for a more collaborative approach to policymaking alongside Indigenous rights and land titles. Moreover, the protests highlighted the impact of resource extraction and development on Indigenous communities, emphasizing the need for sustainable and fair economic practices.
In short, the Idle No More movement epitomized Indigenous sovereignty and resistance within Canada. It brought attention to Indigenous peoples’ ongoing struggles while advocating for a just and equitable society. Although the movement has since evolved and shifted its focus, its impact continues—fuelling persistent activism and support for Indigenous rights and justice.
Quebec Student Protests (2012)
Biggest Canadian protest in 2012
In 2012, Quebec experienced a series of student protests and strikes that captured the nation’s attention. These demonstrations were prompted by proposed changes to Quebec’s education system, including tuition hikes and initiatives to cut government spending. Student organizations led the way, quickly garnering widespread support as crowds swelled into the tens of thousands at their peak.
What made these Quebec student protests truly remarkable was their endurance and fervour. Starting in February 2012, the demonstrations spanned several months, featuring various forms of protest such as marches and rallies. The situation intensified as clashes with police erupted, with protesters accusing law enforcement of using unnecessary force and violating their rights.
The Quebec student movement was fuelled by an array of concerns, including apprehensions about education costs, the government’s role in policy-making, and neoliberalism’s impact on public services. The protests also showcased the strength of collective action and grassroots organizing; students and supporters banded together to demand significant change.
Although not all goals were achieved by the Quebec student protests, the events marked a significant milestone in political and social mobilization in Canada. The demonstrations catalysed support for student rights and activism while raising crucial questions around government responsibility and societal priorities. To this day, the legacy of these protests continues to motivate social movements both within Canada and beyond its borders.
Occupy Protests (2011)
Biggest Canadian protest in 2011
In 2011, a wave of Occupy student protests swept across Canada, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement south of the border. Passionate student groups shined a light on stark income inequality and economic hardships that plague young Canadians. They zoomed in on burdens like skyrocketing tuition fees, debilitating student debt, and the grim job prospects confronting fresh graduates.
The Occupy student demonstrations showcased a kaleidoscope of tactics—be it sit-ins, marches, or teach-ins. Driven by youthful vigour, young people spearheaded these events, voicing their exasperation at economic systems and inadequate government efforts in addressing recessions. The demonstrations gained significant traction thanks to social media and tech-savvy tools that facilitated organization and rallied eager participants.
These Canadian protests were just one facet of a burgeoning global movement seeking to take the wind out of the sails of the world’s financial heavyweights. The demonstration posed pivotal questions regarding corporate responsibility within society and a desperate cry for increased transparency and accountability in our economies. Heated debates ensued concerning education’s future trajectory, employment landscapes, and youth’s crucial role in moulding policy and instigating societal transformation.
The Canadian Occupy student protests encapsulated a crucial juncture in political and social activism by spotlighting the efficacy of collective action and grassroots campaigns. Although not all objectives were met, these events ignited enthusiasm for economic justice and progressive politics. In addition, they nurtured a new generation of spirited activists and organizers. Since then, many work actively with Canadian lobby groups to make the country a better, fairer place.
Today, the lasting impact of those courageous student-led protests continues to reverberate throughout Canadian political discourse and activism at large.
Winnipeg General Strike (1919)
Biggest Canadian protest in 20th century
The Winnipeg General Strike is a significant event in Canadian history, lasting from May 15 to June 25, 1919. Over 30,000 workers participated in the strike, unwilling to tolerate dismal working conditions and meagre wages anymore. A confluence of factors contributed to the strike’s inception, such as elevated living costs, the culmination of World War I, and the entry of returning soldiers into the labour market, leading to intensified competition for jobs.
On May 15, 1919, metal trades workers in Winnipeg initiated the strike by walking off their jobs; they were promptly joined by workers from various sectors including building trades, transportation, and public utilities. The Winnipeg Trades and Labour Council was instrumental in organizing the strike as it represented over 50 unions throughout the city. Strikers sought improved working conditions, higher wages and collective bargaining.
As the strike gained momentum, it spread across the city with workers from numerous industries participating. Picket lines were established as tensions between workers and the authorities increased. On June 10, 1919, a peaceful protest was disrupted by the Royal North-West Mounted Police who charged at the demonstrators, killing two strikers and arresting many others. This incident, coined “Bloody Saturday,” marked a pivotal moment in the strike as public sentiment shifted against the strikers.
The official end of the strike was declared on June 25, 1919 when the strike committee disbanded in an attempt to prevent further violence. Although not immediately successful in achieving its goals, the Winnipeg General Strike profoundly impacted Canadian labour relations and laid the groundwork for future labour movements. This significant event in Canadian history remains a symbol of working-class unity and their ongoing struggle for workers’ rights.