Standing with Imran Khan: Pakistani Montrealers unite against country’s new administration

Protestors cheered, chanted and channeled their energy in support of Pakistan’s former prime minister

Hundreds of Pakistani Canadians protest the ousting of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Photo Mohammad Khan
Photo Mohammad Khan
Photo Mohammad Khan
Photo Mohammad Khan
Photo Mohammad Khan
Photo Mohammad Khan
Photo Mohammad Khan

“What is the meaning of Pakistan? There is no God but Allah,” chanted the crowd. Affirming Pakistan's religious heritage during the month of Ramadan, hundreds marched from Cabot Square.

Beginning with a recitation of the Quran, followed by waving flags and the singing of patriotic songs, protestors signaled their solidarity with Pakistan’s former PM, Imran Khan.

The event was hosted by the Organization of Canadian Pakistanis on Sunday, and was organized in light of Khan’s ousting on April 10. The group called for immediate elections, with hopes to reinstate the ex-PM and leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, who was initially elected in 2018.

In a controversial parliamentary no-confidence motion, the PM was replaced by Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif a day later. Khan became the first prime minister in the nation’s history to be removed from office through a no-confidence motion.

Following Khan’s visit to Russia during the invasion of Ukraine, he claimed to have received intelligence from the former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States, Asad Majeed Khan. 

The official in question reported American dissatisfaction with Khan’s visit, and calls for his removal through a no-confidence vote. While Washington has denied these allegations, this would not be the first instance of America infringing on the country's sovereignty.

Consequently, thousands of protesters rallied against the country’s return to a system ran by a handful of wealthy, powerful families. Protests emerged both across the country and internationally.

“It’s very spontaneous and it’s very organic, that’s why it’s not only happening in Montreal. It’s happening in Toronto, Copenhagen, Britain, Australia–wherever there is a Pakistani community, you will see us joining hands together in collaboration,” said community activist Muhammad Imran. “We’ve never seen such a big crowd from the Pakistani community [in Montreal].”

Imran added that Western governments should be denouncing the regime change in Pakistan, and called for “free and fair elections within two months.”

Community organizer and activist Muhammad Imran speaks to the crowd in Cabot Square. Photo Mohammad Khan

When it came to Canada’s role, Ilyas Butt, chairman of the OCP stated that he wanted internal accountability in the country.

“This today was not to wake up the United Nations to ask for Canada or anybody else's help,” Butt stated. “We want the parties, the army, the election commission in Pakistan, and the Supreme Court to do justice. We want them to do their job.”

Butt spoke against corruption in Pakistan and the need for a leader with integrity. Current PM Shehbaz Sharif and his brother Nawaz have both been accused of extensive corruption. 

Nawaz Sharif, who was prime minister before Khan, resigned and fled to England in 2019 after the Panama Papers exposed his family’s ownership of vast swathes of wealth held in offshore companies.

Praising Khan’s anti-corruption efforts and sharing in the resentment of many Pakistanis regarding the nation’s ruling families, Butt added: “these are the puppets of America, we don't want them. This is why we came here to stand with [Imran Khan]. Because he is an honest leader, we could raise our head [proudly], not just for Pakistan, [but] for the Muslim ummah (community) in the entire world. We all pray for him.”

“He’s the only Prime Minister that has made me feel proud to be Pakistani, before him, I never felt that pride.” — Wasim Awan

In the eyes of many Pakistanis, Khan represented a positive image of Islam at the global level, and many saw him as a champion of Muslim voices internationally. 

Khan’s PTI government proposed and succeeded in passing a United Nations resolution this year, which condemned Islamophobia and marked March 15 as the “International Day to Combat Islamophobia”.

For Wasim Awan, it was Khan’s charisma and proud displays of faith that appealed to him. Awan commended Khan for his constant references to God and the Prophet Muhammad in his speeches. 

“He's the only Prime Minister that has made me feel proud to be Pakistani, before him, I never felt that pride,” said Awan.

Protestor Wasim Awan (center) poses for the camera with friends while holding a PTI party flag. Photo Mohammad Khan

Khan has been praised for his philanthropy, strengthening welfare systems, tax collection, safety nets, as well as reforms in education, voting and healthcare. 

However, critics and analysts have often claimed economic mismanagement, a rift with the country’s powerful military and selective crackdowns of corruption in the justifications for his removal.

“Economic mismanagement is not an excuse for regime change.” — Muhammad Imran

Protestor Khurram Shehzad stated that mitigating COVID-19 for the past few years has largely been the uncontrollable factor in the former PM’s economic shortcomings. “It was all over the world, the inflation was everywhere, not only in Pakistan, prices increased, fuel prices increased… This was not an issue of [PTI] government. This is a global issue.”

“Economic mismanagement is not an excuse for regime change,” Imran added. “We will continue our demonstrations and we will continue our struggles.”