Thousands attend anti-racism protest at Alberta Legislature

Thousands participated in a rally at the Alberta Legislature, joining the wave of voices across Canada and the United States in protesting the death of George Floyd. 

'This is really big for us.'

A Black man addresses a crowd of people, some holding protest signs.
Andrew Parker delivered a speech in front of thousands at the Alberta Legislature in June 2020 at a demonstration against anti-Black racism and police brutality. (Jordan Omstead/CBC)

A crowd of roughly 10,000 people rallied in a peaceful protest at the Alberta Legislature Friday evening, joining a chorus of voices across North America demanding an end to systemic racism against black communities in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

The Fight for Equity event is an opportunity to focus on black lives and experiences as well as inequality in the justice system, said Morrel Wax, who is with Black Lives Matter YEG, one of the organizers.

"Our goal is to fight for equity and that's across all systems that have historical trauma," Wax said. "We're hoping that those folks are ready to hear, that those privileges are ready to be checked and challenged and that we all ... you know, just figure out a path forward."

Those in attendance were encouraged to wear masks. (Jordan Omstead/CBC)

The event started around 6:30 p.m., with participants meeting near the bandstand on the south side of the building. 

Volunteer medics criss-crossed through the crowd on Friday with water bottles and first aid kits. Others strolled the grounds with squirt bottles filled with hand sanitizers and provided masks. 

The speakers represented a diverse cross-section of Edmonton's black community. There were school teachers, poets, musicians, black trans artists, professors — each with a distinct message but all demanding justice and an end to systemic racism.

The rally wrapped up at 8:30 p.m. with thousands of people spilling into the streets of Edmonton, the sound of car horns and chants of "Black Lives Matter" echoing off downtown high rises.

The local Black Lives Matter re-emerged in recent days to help organize the rally after a stretch of relative inactivity. In 2017, organizers led the charge against street checks in the city, finding black and Indigenous persons were being disproportionately stopped by police, in a practice also known as carding.

The turnout at Friday's rally was overwhelming, Fight for Equity organizer Hazelyn Williams said. 

"This is really big for us. I wasn't expecting this huge crowd," she said.  

'Keep each other safe'

Organizers urged people to maintain physical distancing as recommended by Alberta Health Services. 

"Please be aware of your surroundings as this is going to be a large event and we all need to keep each other safe," states a post on the BLM YEG Facebook page.

It also adds that participants should expect to see police in attendance to observe the event and that organizers don't want to see any unlawful acts.

"This is a peaceful protest!" they wrote. "Please do not pay any attention to any negativity that might occur."

Protests across North America have spurred calls for city councils to defund police forces and reinvest the money in community services and initiatives. 

Black Lives Matter YEG shared a form letter on its website calling on Mayor Don Iveson and city council to refuse future funding requests from police. The letter, signed by over 4,000 people as of Friday night, demands councillors reverse a $75-million increase to the police budget and reinvest the money in affordable housing, free public transit and mental health programming. 

The letter also calls on the city to post all police complaints publicly and remove EPS officers from public schools.

Floyd, 46, died in Minneapolis last Monday after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes, sparking protests in U.S. and Canadian cities calling out police brutality.

The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with second-degree murder, while three other officers are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. All four were fired last week.

A digital rally in Edmonton held earlier this week had been viewed more than 80,000 times by the following morning.