News & Politics

Canadians Head to Women’s March on Washington to Protest Trump

“We want this not to happen in Canada."

Photograph courtesy Canadian Womens' March.

There were five spots left on the second Toronto bus when I spoke with Marissa McTasney. She’s been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm. McTasney is organizing six buses for Canadians coming to DC for the Women’s March on Washington. The goal is to show solidarity with their “American sisters” and send a message that Canada rejects Donald Trump’s brand of populism.

“This is not a fun weekend away … This is a really important movement,” McTasney tells Washingtonian. She is the founder and president of Moxie Trades and creator of the “original pink work boot.”

On November 11, McTasney created an online event to see how many Canadians were interested in going to the march. The next morning, she had 100 signups. There are now at least nine buses, including three from other groups and possibly a third from Toronto, coming from Canada. The buses are making back-to-back overnight trips so marchers don’t have to pay for hotel rooms, which organizers say will allow more women participate. (The tickets cost about $130 US.) There are also 11 sister marches happening across Canada for those who can’t make it south. 

McTasney says she has never marched or protested before. It’s “definitely the rhetoric” that fueled Trump’s rise that’s motivating her. She’s concerned that it may drift north.

Kellie Leitch—a Canadian member of parliament running to be leader of Canada’s Conservative Party—is positioning herself as a Canadian Trump. “Tonight, our American cousins threw out the elites and elected Donald Trump as their next president. It’s an exciting message and one that we need delivered in Canada, as well,” she wrote in an election-night email to supporters. Leitch has been criticized for proposing a test to screen immigrants for “Canadian values.” More recently, she’s called out the “cynicism and tut-tutting of the out-of-touch elite who think everything you believe is wrong.” 

Leitch’s campaign manager, Nick Kouvalis, is best known as the man who helped bring the world Rob Ford. In Toronto, Kouvalis took advantage of suburban resentment of downtown bohemians to elect a crack-smoking populist. It was an impressive feat in a city that has been called “New York run by the Swiss.” (Toronto’s five major suburban districts are part of a combined voting district.) With Leitch, Kouvalis is trying to take that populism to the rest of Canada. It seems to be working. A November poll gave Leitch a slight lead in the Conservative leadership race.

The message frightens Women’s March organizers like Penelope Chester Starr, an American who has lived in Canada since 2008. “Populism is a very effective strategy. It’s very easy to say stop the gravy train,” as Ford did, but “the question of whether or not there is one is different,” she says. 

The organizers are trying to keep the message positive. Starr says she had no idea what she was getting into when she signed up as a co-leader; she was just trying to cope with a sense of despair. Since then, she’s been pulling long nights and fielding 25 calls a day on top of her day job. It’s turned out to be “an amazing way to to channel a lot of angst,” she says.

Starr says she’s marching to send a message that Canadian women reject Trump’s politics. “We want this not to happen in Canada. So we’re going to stand up and we’re going to say as Canadians, we won’t stand for this kind of discrimination, hatred, injustice, bigotry in our country,” she said.

After the march, the women will try to keep that spirit alive. “We don’t know what we’re going to be doing yet, starting January 22nd, but we know that we have this groundswell of support,” Starr says. “We have a ton of enthusiasm and a lot of energy. And we want to do something.”

Editorial fellow

Noah Lanard is an editorial fellow. Before Washingtonian, he freelanced for the Guardian, Fusion, and Vice in Mexico City. He was born in DC, grew up in New Jersey, and went to college in Montreal.