British Columbia

Union workers shut down West Coast ports in support of Juneteenth

Workers with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have stopped operations at B.C. ports in recognition of Juneteenth, the celebration of the liberation of slaves in the United States.

Union says work stoppage honours commemoration of the liberation of slaves in the U.S.

The work stoppage will affect B.C. operations within the Port of Vancouver, as well as Prince Rupert, Stewart and Chemainus. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Ports along the West Coast of Canada and the United States are quiet as workers with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union stop operations to support racial equality and social justice.

A statement from the union says the eight-hour action honours Juneteenth, the celebration of the liberation of slaves in the United States in 1865 that is commemorated on June 19.

The union has 60,000 members who work in ports in Alaska, British Columbia, south to California and in Hawaii.

A statement posted by the Canadian union, which is autonomous from its U.S. counterpart, says the organizations have "a proud history of defending the rights and dignity of people.''

In the United States, the traditional day of celebration turned into one of protest Friday as Americans marked Juneteenth after widespread demonstrations against police brutality and racism.

In addition to the traditional cookouts and readings of the Emancipation Proclamation — the Civil War-era order that declared all slaves free in Confederate territory — Americans were marching, holding sit-ins or car-caravan protests.

Demonstrations in Toronto

In Toronto, hundreds of protesters staged a peaceful sit in where they blocked two major downtown roads.

There was a festive atmosphere with songs playing from loudspeakers, protesters dancing and people shouting anti-racism slogans in front of Toronto police headquarters.

People wrote "defund the police'' and "no justice, no peace'' in chalk on the road in front of the police station, and protesters chanted "Black lives, they matter here.''

Demonstrators said they were happy to see that anti-racism protests were sustaining momentum and had continued for weeks in the city.

"I hope it keeps on going ... the system needs to change,'' said Leigh Harrison, who was sitting on the ground during the protest.

Hermes Azam said he wants the protests to result in police being defunded and abolished.

"We're out here today in solidarity with the protests that are happening around the world against police brutality,'' said Azam.

"There are far more talented and capable people who can take care of and secure their own communities.''

Police officers were at the protest directing traffic and blocking entrances to the building.

Thousands of people demonstrate to defund the police during a Black Lives Matter protest as they painted the street pink in front of the City of Toronto police headquarters in Toronto on Friday, June 19, 2020. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

On the West Coast, the work stoppage affected the Port of Vancouver, Prince Rupert, Stewart and Chemainus in B.C.

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, which manages the Port of Vancouver, didn't respond to the union action, but the Port of Tacoma in Washington state issued a statement recognizing Juneteenth.

"With this proclamation, the port is making it clear where we stand: We stand with our African American community members and that Black lives matter,'' said Kristin Ang, a Port of Tacoma commissioner in a tweet posted by the port.

Rob Ashton, president of the Canadian union, says in a statement that systemic racism is built into all levels of life in the United States, but this country shares the blame, in the past and the present.

"We also had slavery, there was the internment of Japanese Canadians, the incident of the Komagata Maru and the residential schools,'' writes Ashton.

"In present day, we have the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and we see systemic racism in Canadian society.'' 

Work in the ports would resume with the start of the afternoon shift, the union says.

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