In his daily address on the province’s COVID-19 response on Monday, Quebec Premier François Legault took a moment to comment on the “tragic death” of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis after pleading for air as a white police officer pressed his knee onto Floyd’s neck for several minutes.
“As premier of Quebec, I stand with all of you who stand against racism,” he said. “We must continue to build a society where racism no longer exists.”
On Sunday, thousands of Montrealers gathered for an anti-racism protest in the wake of Floyd’s death to denounce racist violence and police impunity — both in the U.S. and at home in Montreal.
The march was held to condemn police brutality and demand justice for Floyd, whose death was captured on video. In the wake of Floyd’s death, there has been growing unrest across the U.S., with nightly demonstrations in major cities.
In Montreal, protesters took to kneeling in solidarity several times over the course of the night. Organizers said the march was an opportunity to express their frustration and their own anger at the treatment of racialized people in Quebec and elsewhere in the country.
Some of the names invoked included names of Black men killed during Montreal police interventions in recent years.
While Legault agreed there were incidences of racism and discrimination in Quebec, he argued the issue was not widespread and not as bad as in the United States.
“We have this discussion very often. I think that there is discrimination in Quebec, but there is not systemic discrimination,” he said. “There’s no system of discrimination, and it’s a very, very small minority of people doing this discrimination.”
Legault did, however, stress the importance of putting forth solutions and pointed to a study by Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault.
“The problems will be studied in order to make sure that it doesn’t happen anymore,” he said.
While Legault praised those who took to the streets on Sunday, thanking those who practised social distancing and wore face masks, he condemned the actions of those who took part in looting after the rally.
“It is unacceptable. I do not think that we are helping the cause by doing this,” he said. “Those who took advantage to loot and vandalize must face the legal consequences.”
Montreal police say 11 people were arrested after tensions flared on Sunday night following the protest.
Investigators are looking at 70 cases of alleged mischief, according to police spokesperson Raphael Bergeron. Nine people were arrested in connection with alleged breaking and entering, one person was arrested for alleged assault with a weapon and another was taken into custody for alleged mischief.
“Other arrests may come in the next couple of days,” Bergeron said on Monday, adding that the investigation is ongoing.
Thousands of protesters made their way through the city’s downtown core peacefully until police say projectiles were thrown at officers who responded with pepper spray and tear gas.
The march was declared illegal, and the situation later deteriorated with clashes of violence between police officers and some people in the streets.
Windows were broken on Ste-Catherine Street, a major commercial artery that runs east-west through the city. Some people also looted stores along the stretch.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante took to social media to condemn looters but said they had “nothing to do” with the march.
“Demonstrating to denounce racism and demanding that things change is noble and necessary,” she wrote.
“I can only denounce the actions of the looters who ransacked the shops and have nothing to do with this peaceful demonstration.”
— With files from the Canadian Press