March through heart of Saskatoon demands justice for George Floyd
Thousands attend event
Braydon Page said he has heard Canadian racism compared to a fine dust that coats its surroundings — everywhere, always there, but easy to miss if you're not looking for it.
Page is the organizer behind a Thursday march in Saskatoon, which was dedicated to the memory of George Floyd and other people of colour who have died in police encounters.
"Even though we live in Canada and we're known as a very inclusive country, there's still racism that goes on everywhere," he said.
"From myself, as a member of the black community, my family, family friends that are Indigenous and First Nations, we've all experienced it and we all know what it's like."
WATCH: Thousands took to the streets in Saskatoon Thursday
Thousands march in Saskatoon
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man and father, died on May 25 after Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer, pinned Floyd's neck under his knee for more than eight minutes.
In a video of the incident, which has been shared across the globe, Floyd can be heard telling the officer he can't breathe several times before falling silent. Chauvin and three other police officers have now been charged in Floyd's death.
Marching among the demonstrators was Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark.
"We're still facing — obviously as we've seen — some significant challenges when it comes to racism and inequality in our society and we've been talking in our community about this for many years," he said.
He said the video of Floyd's death has spurred people to action and now they're making their voices heard.
"It can't help but move people to say: 'That's not acceptable' and that's one act of violence, but we know the frustration that's coming out is also because of persistent inequality and people living in two societies too often in Canada and North America."
Clark acknowledged those are issues faced by Saskatoon's Indigenous and newcomer populations and he said it's inspiring to see so many people speak out against racism and inequality.
"People want change and they know that we can do better," he said. "And in Canada, we have to do better when it comes to equality and when it comes to having strong relations, where the police are of the community and not acting on the community."
Clark, as a member of Saskatoon's Board of Police Commissioners, said he's already been part of numerous important conversations as the city tries to work through issues of racism and inequality. He says that work must continue.
"I believe we can make progress and hearing from the community about the need to do that is an important part of the conversation," he said.
Clark said while there were many people at the rally wearing masks and trying to protect themselves from the COVID-19 virus, he said the world is dealing with a second contagion in racism.
"The virus of racism and inequality is having a big impact on people's lives and their health in our communities as well and so this is an important way of building the momentum to keep changing, and keep improving our systems, so nobody is left behind."
Captured on camera
Demonstrations in Floyd's memory have sprung up across the United States and the globe, with demonstrators speaking out against systemic racism and calling for reforms around policing in America.
"Thank God for camera phones. We can actually now see [racism in action]," said Maxwell Abaga, one of the people participating in the march. "We are watching and we are seeing everything. You can't hide any more."
Abaga said his big concern was safety, which is why he was handing out masks prior to the march, to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Abaga has experienced racism and said he still doesn't know how to put it into words. He calls experiencing racism "unique," something he hadn't experienced when he lived in Nigeria.
"I felt shame. I think that's the right word to use," Abaga said. "I pretty much wasn't doing anything. I was just being my regular self."
The procession made its way through Saskatoon to Kiwanis Park where people took a knee or got down on the ground.
They then marched back to city hall and held the demonstration in city square, with chants of "I can't breathe" and "Black lives matter."
Page said he hopes the march sent a message that people are united in the fight against racism and police brutality.
Page said marchers are calling for a more equal and just society on a whole. He said he's had people from across Saskatoon reach out.
"Regardless of race, age, whatever, there are so many people that are wanting to come out, speak their voice and show support," he said.
Racism issue that spreads beyond U.S. border
Shanelle Walters attended the event holding a sign that said "Black Lives Matter." She said people need to realize that racism is an issue here in Canada as well.
"People need to realize that racism isn't just an American problem," she said, as she fought back tears. "It's something that's right here."
Walters also noted that people need to understand even little steps, when they're on the right path, can have a big effect.
"The small things you do make a difference," she said. "Even showing that you care to learn something makes a difference."
She said she was surprised by the turnout at Thursday's event and said she hopes the momentum continues to grow.
"I think it means a multitude of things," she said. "The one thing I honestly hope to see is that this isn't just a trend thing. I hope this continues. I hope people learn more. I hope people keep speaking up, because the time it matters most is when you witness something when you're around it."
The demonstration was a peaceful one and concluded with several members of the Saskatoon Police Service posing for photos with members of the demonstration.
Page said he was in communication with the Saskatoon Police Service ahead of the event to ensure everyone is safe, as he's aware of threats of vehicular violence against marches across North America, and did not want harm to come to anyone marching in Saskatoon.
"It's not the police's thing. It's our thing. It's our time to unite," he said, just before the march was scheduled to begin Thursday afternoon. "The only thing they're doing is clearing the roads, making sure we're safe."
The police service confirmed it had made contact with the organizers.
"We recognize and support that everyone has the lawful right to assembly, so long as it remains peaceful,'' Saskatoon police said in a news release.
With files from Creeden Martell