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Hundreds attend Toronto vigil to mourn victims of Beirut blast

Last Updated Aug 8, 2020 at 11:31 pm EDT

Hundreds of mourners gathered at Nathan Philips Square for a candlelight vigil Saturday night to pay tribute to the victims of last week’s devastating blast in Beirut.

The Aug. 4 explosion has left at least 150 people dead, and thousands injured. More than 300,000 people have lost their homes.

The blast is believed to have happened when a fire touched off a stockpile of 2,750 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate that authorities left sitting in a warehouse for years – despite years of repeated warnings from officials that it posed a danger.

Both the Canadian and Lebanese national anthems were played during the vigil and the iconic Toronto sign was changed to reflect the colours of the Lebanese flag in a show of solidarity.

Officials from all three levels of government, business leaders and community members all spoke at the #LightsforLebanon gathering, expressing their grief and hope that the tragedy could be a catalyst for change in the Lebanese community.

“My biggest message to everybody here tonight is unity. Regardless of religion, regardless of where we live – whether it’s Toronto, Beirut, downtown or in the mountains – we will never be able to conquer the enemy without unity,” said Charles Khabouth, CEO of INK Entertainment. “Unfortunately for us in Lebanon the enemy is our leaders.”

“Unfortunately these sorts of events are not new but something of this magnitude rocked the entire nation. We’re devastated, we’re angry, we’re upset, we’re saddened and we’re here to demand that change happens. The voices of the Lebanese people back home have not been heard,” said Julia Chakra, one of the co-organizers of the event.

The federal government has said it will match all individual donations from Canadians to the Humanitarian Coalition – a group of 12 established aid organizations working on the ground in Lebanon – or to one of the coalition’s members, up to a maximum of $2 million.

Canada is directing all of its aid for this crisis directly to humanitarian organizations, not the Lebanese government, to ensure the assistance goes to those in need.