In Montreal, thousands of protesters took to the streets today to denounce systemic hatred and racism, and promote inclusivity and tolerance.

On Berri Street between Ste-Catherine Street and De Maisonneuve Boulevard, police in riot gear stood on the sidewalk while protesters gave speeches condemning systemic racism.

The event brought together about 160 diverse groups, including Montreal's Black Lives Matter division, a group of Muslims and Arabs who stand for secularism in Quebec, and several university student associations.

These groups signed an online manifesto calling for a halt to the spread of xenophobia in Quebec.

Protesters made their way through the streets chanting "So- so- so- solidarity" and "Everybody hates racists."

Organizers did not disclose their route to police, who advised motorists to avoid the streets where protesters would be.

Criticizing Bill 62

Many protesters held signs addressing Bill 62, Quebec's controversial legislation on religious neutrality.

Fatima Ahmad, who wore her face covered at the march, brandished a poster reading "Telling me to uncover is my definition of oppression."

For Ahmad, who wears a niqab as a sign of her personal conviction toward God, Bill 62 is a law that targets women.

"To tell me to uncover is very oppressive to me," she said. "Just like telling a woman to wear the niqab is oppressive."
She added that though the niqab has been used as a tool of oppression in some cases, most women who cover their faces around the world choose to do so.

Marlihan Lopez, co-vice president of Quebec's women's federation, said she opposes Bill 62 because it marginalizes and stigmatizes a certain group of women.

"It renders these women even more vulnerable and insecure in public spaces, and it impedes them [from] navigating society," she said.

Opposing far-right groups

In a speech, event spokesperson Anas Bouslikhane spoke of the importance of nipping xenophobia in the bud.

"If we stay silent and allow complacency to take the reins in Quebec, we will let the hate speech, the toxicity, take hold," said Bouslikhane.

Stacey Gomez, another spokesperson, said that the protesters felt it was important to respond to far-right groups that have been demonstrating in Quebec recently — notably, La Meute and Storm Alliance.

"[We are here] to come from a place of strength, to unite people across different struggles, and to be here for this demonstration today," Gomez said, adding that the rise of the far right in the U.S. and Europe coincides with ongoing systemic inequality.

The group met at Place Émilie-Gamelin and walked toward Place du Canada, where a statue of John A. Macdonald was vandalized with paint overnight.

An anonymous group took responsibility for the defacing, claiming the incident took place ahead of today's planned anti-racism demonstration, though the group said it is not affiliated with the protest.

The protest's organizers say the perpetrator was not from their ranks.

With files from Simon Nakonechny, Claire Loewen and Radio-Canada