For the second consecutive Sunday, thousands of protesters crisscrossed downtown Montreal today, marching against racism and police violence. The protest this weekend, however, has some differences from last week. On the one hand, it seems to be larger, and it has brought together Quebec political figures and other prominent figures.
He was also quieter than last weekend, which resulted in tear gas, looting and arrests. Today’s event started around 10:00 am and continued relatively quietly for eight hours.
The organizers officially declared their involvement in the middle of the afternoon. A smaller group continued to walk, and the police first set off tear gas at around 6 p.m.
This week’s protest is just one of many protests taking place simultaneously – a very different type of event also took place in NDG, with others across Quebec. A parallel rally was held at the Place de la Gare de Sherbrooke and in Quebec City, in front of the National Assembly.
Events took place on Saturday in several Canadian cities, including Toronto, St. John’s and London, Ont.
These rallies, like countless others across the United States, were sparked by the publication of a video on May 25 showing a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of a black man, George Floyd, for nearly nine minutes.
Floyd fell motionless and died, the officer’s knee still on him.
In Montreal, protesters gathered by the hundreds at Place Émilie-Gamelin at 10 a.m. before heading to Dorchester Square.
The Quebec Liberal leader, Dominique Anglade, was present at the demonstration, as was the Federal Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, Melanie Joly.
At the meeting point, the organizers took the floor to underline “the plurality of their points of view” and, at the same time, their approaches.
One speaker criticized Prime Minister François Legault for advancing a poor definition of systemic racism.
Legault said this week that systemic discrimination does not exist in Quebec because racists in the province are a “small minority”.
“We have this discussion quite often,” he said. “Discrimination exists in Quebec, but there is no systemic discrimination; there is no system of discrimination in Quebec. ”
Legault’s statement sparked an immediate rebuke from the official opposition, which said that systemic racism is not as Legault described it, and that is a problem here.
“Of course yes,” said Quebec Liberal leader Dominique Anglade. “We have been saying this for a long time. People have been talking about it since the 80s. ”
A volunteer in the movement said that Legault’s comments also made her want to set the record straight.
“People say it’s only in the United States,” said Alyssa Tramoris. “But it’s here too. Even if we don’t see it … Racism is still present here, it is still systemic even if Mr. Legault says no. ”
A right-wing goalkeeper for the Alouettes was also present during the march, saying he “was trying to get justice for George Floyd to spur change. I think the world really needs it right now. That’s why we’re here. ”
Some protesters said that being present at the protest looked like a way to take to the streets.
“I am here to support George Floyd and his family,” said Tchuilen Ngatcha Willy, a protester. “I don’t want to be next. ”
“When I walk on the street, I constantly feel this kind of fear,” said David Dessalines.
THE PRESENCE OF MUTE POLICE DURING THE DAY
For most of the day, the police presence was silenced: many officers in riot gear were nearby, but they stayed outside the protest road.
Montreal police chief Sylvain Caron received an offer to attend the Sunday rally canceled on Saturday after organizers explained that some participants and groups were opposed to his presence.
The force said on its social media page that it respects the decision and noted that officers will be on hand to keep an eye on the march.
Police hailed the “order and respect” shown by thousands of people who had previously demonstrated to express outrage at Floyd’s death.
But on Ste-Catherine Street, downtown, many merchants have opened their windows as a precaution.
Following the peaceful rally a week ago, looters and vandals clashed with the police, causing theft and damage, some of which were broken.
Montreal police said they considered vandalism last week to be a separate case from people who took advantage of the protest to commit crimes.
On Saturday, they released photos of people caught on store cameras amidst looting in an effort to make arrests.
After staying mainly in the background on Sunday, just before 6 p.m., police began to warn protesters to abide by all laws and said they were starting to see illegal behavior.
A MOMENT OF SILENCE IN NDG
As the protests made their way to the city center, a few kilometers to the west, another type of protest was taking place.
Hundreds of people gathered in Loyola Park to fight back in silence: they knelt down and prayed to fight discrimination near their homes.
“I really wanted to do something where we could take a minute to calm down, be Zen for a second, listen to our inner voices, think about what’s really going on around us and how we can make a difference,” said Denburk. Reid, the director of Montreal Community Cares.
The organizers wanted to offer a quieter and safer alternative to walking downtown. They simply asked them to kneel down en masse, to reflect and pray about what they could personally do to create a more equitable world.
The kneeling was also a tribute to George Floyd. Several protests in American cities have seen large groups kneel together for eight minutes, which represents the time that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck before he died.
Chauvin was fired and charged with murder.
“It’s a way to show what he’s been through,” said Reid.
“We are not going to kneel for eight minutes because the policeman has been on his neck for eight minutes,” he said.
“But we’re going to kneel down to remember, and we’re going to kneel down in a silent form of protest … like [NFL player Colin] Kaepernick did it when the anthem was in progress. ”
The NDG vigil mainly attracted families, and parents who attended said they were happy to have a safer way to come together for social justice.
“I think it’s a great organization, a great place to get away from it all, and you know, everyone will feel safe and comfortable,” said one participant. “I feel very comfortable here with my family.”
Another said residents “feel very happy to be able to take a stand without worrying about safety … this is something we have always wanted to do and we are happy to do.”
Although the event took place outside of downtown, organizers plan to send photos of the event to Montreal city hall to show how many residents showed up.
With files from The Canadian Press.
This is a story in development and will be updated.