Hundreds gathered at the steps of the Saskatchewan legislature Tuesday to denounce racial injustice, while Premier Scott Moe took to social media to denounce those who defaced a war memorial not far from the building.
Before the rally, someone scrawled “Justice For Floyd #BLM’” across one of the memorial stones. It was a reference to George Floyd, a Black man who died under a white Minneapolis police officer’s knee last week, as well as to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Floyd’s death a week ago set off intense demonstrations in many cities across the United States and in Canada.
“Peaceful protest is always welcome at our legislature,” Moe wrote on social media. “Vandalism is not acceptable … This is outrageous.”
Leaders of the rally said the graffiti did not come from them.
NDP Opposition Leader Ryan Meili took to Twitter during the event to say the premier’s focus on vandalism “sends the exact wrong message.”
“Black lives matter,” wrote Meili. “The premier needs to say it, to acknowledge the racism in Saskatchewan and get to work leading us forward.”
In a Tuesday afternoon news conference, Moe said he believed the “disgraceful” vandalism to be the actions of a lone individual.
“I was disturbed and horrified by the brutal and senseless killing of George Floyd,” he read in an opening statement.
“It’s disturbing to see the use of tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful protesters.”
Moe said he didn’t attend the protest outside his office windows because he was travelling.
While there is a public-health order limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the premier said he understood why so many people came together.
“Racism is present here,” he said. “My assumption is that the law enforcement officials have used their judgement with respect to this particular rally on the broader societal challenge that we have.”
Many of the demonstrators wore masks and organizers repeatedly asked people to physically distance.
Chief medical officer Dr. Saqib Shahab encouraged anyone without a mask to watch for symptoms and get tested if they’re worried.
Many in the crowd held signs that decried silence towards racism. An image of Floyd’s face with his last words “I can’t breathe” was drawn in chalk on the steps in front of speakers.
At one point, the crowd of hundreds was asked to take a knee as the names of Black people who have died in Saskatchewan and elsewhere were read aloud.
The list included Samwel Uko, who last month was found dead in nearby Wascana Lake. Reports say he had tried to get mental-health help at a hospital before his death.
Personal trainer Shanika Slinn held a sign with the words of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on it: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”
“Whenever the term Black Lives Matter comes up, we can’t be silent,”’ said Slinn, tears welling in her eyes.
“This is my way of showing my voice.”
Slinn, who was born in Jamaica and has spent 15 years living in Regina, said people have mostly treated her well, but not always.
“I have been called the N-word multiple times,” she said. “I’ve been told to go back to where I came from.
“I am not going to let this deter me from thinking that people are good.”
Speakers also called for more police accountability.
Saskatchewan is one of the few provinces without an independent watchdog to probe serious police incidents. Instead, police investigate themselves with a Ministry of Justice appointed observer.
Moe said that his government plans to make changes to police oversight, but he didn’t provide a timeline.