'Friends of America' rally in Toronto

About 1,000 Canadians hold 'Friends of America' rally in downtown Toronto, pledge support for U.S.-led war in Iraq.

About 1,000 Canadians stood in the freezing rain on Friday and tried to warm up relations with the United States by pledging support for "our best friend" in the world.

They expressed embarrassment and anger over Ottawa's decision not to back the U.S.-led military campaign to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Organizers said it was a pro-U.S. not a pro-war demonstration, but Washington's argument about the need for armed conflict to defend freedom was an unmistakable theme. Some people held signs with slogans like "Freedom Isn't Free" and "Chrtien Doesn't Speak For Me."

Canadian Alliance Leader Stephen Harper thanked the crowd for "opening your hearts" and "saying to our friends in the United States of America, you are our ally, our neighbour, and our best friend in the whole wide world.

"And when your brave men and women give their lives for freedom and democracy we are not neutral," Harper added. "We do not stand on the sidelines; we're for the disarmament of Saddam and the liberation of the people of Iraq."

Eves denies using word 'cowardice'

Ontario Premier Ernie Eves talked about the importance of goodwill between neighbours, but it was a sentence he didn't actually deliver at the rally that had reporters asking questions.

In a news release from his office, Eves was reported to have said: "I want history to remember Canada for its courage and loyalty, not its cowardice."

But after the rally, the premier denied ever calling the federal government's decision to stay out of the war cowardly. Eves said he had not seen the news release, and blamed someone on his staff for going too far.

In his speech at Nathan Phillips Square outside Toronto City Hall, Eves did say he thinks Ottawa made a mistake not standing by the U.S. in the showdown against Saddam.

"Canadians, friends of America, that is who we as Canadians are," Eves said. "Our American neighbours, our friends, our colleagues, our allies have always supported us, they've protected us, they've helped us and they've stood by us, and now we should be standing by them."

During a debate in the House of Commons Thursday, the federal government stood by its decision not to support the use of force in Iraq that wasn't sanctioned by the United Nations.