Nova Scotia

Demonstrators at Black Lives Matter vigil in Halifax say now it's time to take action

A candlelight Black Lives Matter Vigil was held in Halifax on Friday evening. Organizers said the evening was about honouring those lost to police brutality in Canada and worldwide.

Organizers say aim of vigil was to honour those lost to police brutality around the world

The Halifax vigil is happening as marches and vigils are being held in other Canadian cities to honour Black lives lost at the hands of police. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Hundreds of people gathered outside Halifax city hall on Friday evening for a Black Lives Matter candlelight vigil.

Organizers said the purpose of the gathering was to honour those lost to police brutality in Canada and around the world.

"I want us to talk about heavy topics, let's talk about police brutality, let's talk about how the world has failed many people in the community and let's bring it to light ... and then we can work toward police reform," said Cecilia Masimo-Tataa, one of the organizers.

The Halifax vigil happened as marches and vigils are being held in other Canadian cities to honour Black lives lost at the hands of police. There have been a few high-profile cases lately.

An Indigenous woman was killed by Edmundston, N.B., police during a wellness check this week.

In late May, a Toronto woman with connections to Nova Scotia fell to her death after police were called to intervene. The family of Regis Korchinski-Paquet believe police played a role in her death.

Some attendees of the vigil arrived a half-hour early to privately mourn, organizers said. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

In the U.S., demonstrations have shifted into memorials to honour George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was killed by police in late May after being pinned under the knee of a white officer for nearly nine minutes.

Kevin James, one of the attendees, said he hopes people will take action after leaving the vigil.

"I love what we're doing as a community, it brings unity. But I think the part where we all kind of get lost is it comes down to the genuineness," he said.

"... I challenge people to question themselves, what's your intention when you come to this rally? Are you riding the trend and it's cool right now? ... Are you genuinely going to do anything when you get home to stop what's really going on?"

Kevin James, one of the vigil's attendees, said he hopes it will lead to genuine change. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Daniella Sam, Vickey Natiki and Angela Sam attended the vigil to show Black lives matter year-round, not just when somebody dies.

"This is not just a trend, this is not a fad. This is something important, this is something serious," said Natiki.

"I know we're not in the States, but this severity is still on the same scale. It's just hidden here in Canada. So we have to make sure that we commemorate the lives that were lost to police brutality and lives that were lost to unjust crimes."

Natiki said she was glad to see so many people turn out for the vigil.

"This is not a photo opportunity, this is real life for individuals like me and my friends and my family," she said.

Angela Sam, left, Vickey Natiki, centre, and Daniella Sam at the Black Lives Matter vigil in Halifax. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Nathan Simmons, another attendee, said seeing so many people out at the vigil made it feel like the city was with him.

"I hope that everyone showing up across Canada and the world will be left with some fire to do stuff extra after these protests stop," Simmons said.

Halifax Regional Police were also at the vigil, watching from a distance.

"We understand that you are hurting and we respect the right to demonstrate with that," Const. Dylan Jackman, a police spokesperson, said from headquarters before the protest began. "The one thing we ask tonight is that people socially distance and that they wear appropriate PPE, masks if they can."

Organizers of the Halifax vigil encouraged people to respect public health protocols at the demonstration by maintaining a physical distance of at least two metres because of COVID-19.

Organizers have encouraged demonstrators to practise physical distancing. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

"If physical attendance cannot be met, we ask that you light a candle in memory of our siblings lost to white supremacy and police brutality," organizers said in the Facebook event page for the vigil.

"We ask that attendees bring posters and signs with names lost and keep their names in your prayers and thoughts. We as a collective are grieving."

Some attendees of the vigil arrived a half-hour early to privately mourn, organizers said. 

The rally wrapped with a march toward Halifax Regional Police headquarters on Gottingen Street.

'Protest in a manner that is safe,' says Strang

On Friday, Nova Scotia Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang said people attending demonstrations should wear a non-medical mask and that people who are feeling unwell stay home.

"At the end of the day, Nova Scotians who want to participate need to respect that these are creating an additional risk of COVID-19," Strang said.

"And you have to respect your fellow Nova Scotians and protest in a manner that is safe and does not create a risk of reintroduction and spark of a COVID-19 outbreak."

With files from Shaina Luck