What started as a sombre vigil for Pierre Coriolan, a 58-year-old black man who was fatally shot by Montreal police this week, quickly turned into a call for change in how officers respond when people of colour are in distress.
"There's no communication, there's no support, there's no care," said Venetta Gordon, an activist from Black Lives Matter Montreal.
Organized by Black Lives Matter, Montréal Noir and Hoodstock, the crowd swelled into the streets of Montreal early Sunday afternoon. Donning black, they marched singing along Ste-Catherine Street from Coriolan's apartment building at Robillard and St-André streets.
They then took over an unoccupied stage at the city's International Jazz Festival before making a stop at police headquarters.
The demonstration comes just days after police were called to Coriolan's apartment around 7 p.m. last Tuesday. A neighbour said a man was destroying items and yelling in his home.
When officers arrived at the building, the man confronted them holding a screwdriver in each hand, according to a statement by Quebec's independent investigations bureau, known by its French acronym, BEI.
Police tried to subdue him with a stun gun and rubber bullets, but were unsuccessful. Officers then used their firearms, some time between 7:19 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., when paramedics arrived at the scene.
Police 'can't de-escalate'
The fact that Coriolan was black raised immediate concern among activists earlier this week, who fear racial profiling affected how officers responded to a person of colour in distress.
The Sunday vigil to commemorate Coriolan's life, organized by groups advocating against racism and police brutality, also featured a list of demands.
Organizers are asking Montreal police to name the officer who shot Coriolan, as well as collect and publish data on police interventions involving racialized people.
They also want health and social services to better serve the black community and provide better mental health supports. They called for action on institutionalized racism, adding that police shouldn't be at the frontline when it comes to responding to people in mental distress.
"They can't de-escalate," said Montreal activist Robin Maynard.
Maynard said the use of a stun gun, plastic bullets and eventually firearms by police during the intervention "shows they don't value the lives of black people."