British Columbia

Vancouver rally attracts thousands intent on spreading message about racism in Canada

Thousands of people who gathered in downtown Vancouver on Friday wanted to spread one clear message — racism and police brutality aren’t just American problems.

'We need to magnify this. We need to talk about this because racism in Canada does exist'

A woman gestures during a rally against anti-black racism in Vancouver on Friday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Thousands of people who gathered in downtown Vancouver on Friday wanted to spread one clear message — racism and police brutality aren't just American problems.

As the protest got underway at Jack Poole Plaza at 4 p.m. PT, members of the crowd took a knee to commemorate the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota. 

Those who spoke with CBC said that while high profile incidents of police violence against black Americans have catalyzed protests around the world, Canadians shouldn't ignore the racism that happens here at home.

The peaceful protest started with members of the crowd taking a knee to commemorate the death of George Floyd, who died at the hands of police in Minneapolis. 1:34

Vancouver actor David Hardware said he is regularly followed by staff in stores and faces profiling by police.

"I deal with racial profiling every day. I think a lot of people think that Canada is not too bad, but in reality, it is, and hopefully we can use our voice and change that for our next generation," Hardware said.

Friday's event featured speakers from the community who will share proactive steps for tackling racism. Organizer Jacob Callender-Prasad, 21, hopes it starts conversations about what people can do in their daily lives to help address the issue.

Protesters are pictured during a rally against racism in Vancouver on Friday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Within the first hour of Friday's protest, the crowd had stretched beyond the edges of the plaza and reached two blocks south to West Hastings Street and one block west to Burrard. The crowd chanted the names of black people who have been killed by police, and listened to frequent reminders to maintain physical distances to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Aisha McCarnan told CBC that she sees the violence displayed by many police in the U.S. is "drifting" into Canada. 

"I came out here to support my people. A lot of us are dying," she said.

Standing beside her, Giselle Whittaker held a sign calling for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women.

"It's important for us to be allies in the same struggle," she said.

"Police brutality takes place everywhere, every single place. We need to be those who speak up and use our rights for the better."

A protester stands among thousands who crowded Jack Poole Plaza in Vancouver on Friday to join in global demonstrations against systemic racism and police violence. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Most members of the crowd wore masks as a precaution against COVID-19. Speakers repeatedly urged those present to stay at least two metres apart, but in parts of the crowd those distances weren't carefully maintained.

Hand sanitizer, masks and gloves were handed out by volunteers, and anyone who is sick or has a compromised immune system was asked to stay home.

By the time the rally had dispersed early Friday evening, there had been no reports of violence.

Protesters are pictured during the anti-racism rally in Vancouver on Friday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

'It was racial profiling'

Callender-Prasad knows racism is here in Canada. He's experienced it himself.

He says he's been the subject of racist remarks at school, in the community, and at work.

He's been detained twice by police, including an incident in 2016 in which he told the media police drew guns on him.

Both times, he recounted, police told him it was a case of mistaken identity.

Jacob Callender-Prasad, the organizer of protests against anti-black racism and police brutality, is pictured in front of the Olympic cauldron in Vancouver on Thursday. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"The real truth was it was racial profiling," Callender-Prasad said.

"We need to magnify this. We need to talk about this because racism in Canada does exist."

Callender-Prasad was one of the organizers of Sunday's protest against anti-black racism at the Vancouver Art Gallery, which saw thousands of people congregate peacefully.

It was one of the many rallies held worldwide after the death of George Floyd. Floyd was a black man who died as a white Minneapolis police officer drove a knee into his neck.

Friday's anti-racism rally in Vancouver stretches onto the street behind Jack Poole Plaza. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

On Friday, Callender-Prasad is organizing a second rally: this time to shine a light on racism in Canada.

"You always hear … it's only in America but that is an act of ignorance in itself," he said.

"The time to address this situation is now and the time to handle it is now."

Safety considerations

Callender-Prasad said his top priority is safety. While most protests following Floyd's death have been peaceful, some have turned violent.

"I want to ... show the world that [in] Vancouver, we stand with you in solidarity but we don't need a riot here," Callender-Prasad said.

"If the whole country was rioting, I guarantee you the headlines will not be 'peaceful protests' and 'keep this discussion going.' It's going to be, 'How are we going to fix this riot?'

Police estimated 3,500 people attended Sunday's protest. 

A protester holds a sign calling for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women at a protest in Vancouver on Friday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

With files from Jon Hernandez, Gian-Paolo Mendoza and Laura Lynch

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