Montreal protesters aim to drive home message racism is a problem here too
'It has to stop, this killing of innocent people at the hands of police,' organizer says
Organizers of an anti-racism demonstration in Montreal don't want their message to be lost after a protest that drew thousands to the streets ended in looting by a smaller group of people, once the march had officially come to a close.
"It has to stop, this killing of innocent people at the hands of police, not only in the U.S. but also Canada as well," Marie-Livia Beaugé, a Montreal criminal justice lawyer who helped lead the rally, said Monday.
The march was held following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in Minneapolis last Monday.
Video showing a white police officer kneeling on the man's neck for minutes has sparked outrage and protests across the United States, as well as several cities in Canada.
Thousands took part in the Montreal march, far more than organizers had anticipated in the middle of the pandemic.
Later on, 11 people were arrested, including nine for breaking and entering after several stores were looted downtown. Roughly 70 cases of mischief were reported, police said.
Beaugé said she was "overwhelmed by the solidarity of multiple Quebecers of different origins."
People at the march, many of whom wore colourful masks, held signs remembering Floyd as well as black Canadians who have died during encounters with police.
They included Régis Korchinski-Paquet, a Toronto woman who fell to her death from the 24th floor of an apartment building during a police intervention last week, and Pierre Coriolan, who was shot to death by police in his Montreal apartment building in 2017.
'Everybody has to hear us'
Will Prosper, an activist and member of the advocacy group Hoodstock, said the rally sent a strong message that there are problems in Montreal too.
"For years we said there's racial profiling in Montreal, and now it's a message that everybody has to hear us," he said.
A 2019 report prepared for the City of Montreal found that Montreal police engage in systemic discrimination in targeting Indigenous, black and Arab people.
Last year, as well, a Quebec Superior Court judge authorized a class-action lawsuit against the City of Montreal by people who alleged being the victims of racial profiling at the hands of police.
Hasani Freeman, an 18-year-old demonstrator, said he doesn't feel at ease when interacting with Montreal police.
"I don't feel safe as if I was a white teenager my age," he said. "I always have to be extra vigilant with my friends, always have to make sure I'm acting better than everybody. I don't think it's as different here as anywhere else."
Tensions flared after the formal rally had concluded and some demonstrators made their way back to the starting point, in the shadow of Montreal police headquarters downtown.
In a tweet Monday, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said the goals of the demonstration were "noble and necessary."
"I can only denounce the actions of the looters who ransacked the shops and have nothing to do with this peaceful demonstration," she said.
The gathering marked the first major protest in the city since public health restrictions on large gatherings were put in place in Quebec in March.
Quebec Premier François Legault said Monday he "stands in solidarity with people who denounce racial violence" — though he denied there was a systemic problem in Quebec.
Legault said he was thankful most people at the protest respected public health guidelines, but he said those who participated in vandalism and looting will have to pay "the legal consequences."
With files from Daybreak and Antoni Nerestant