Thousands marched through downtown Ottawa on Friday in a show of solidarity against anti-Black racism and police brutality.
Ottawa’s march is one of multiple events in Canada today, following days of demonstrations in numerous American cities against racism and police brutality.
The No Peace Until Justice Coalition (NPJC), which organized the march, describes the demonstration in Instagram posts as a peaceful event meant to show solidarity with Black Canadians and “countless other Black individuals killed by police brutality.”
Anger has erupted in the United States and around the world over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes.
At one point, the crowd in Ottawa went silent for the time Floyd was held down. The majority of participants also took a knee.
Demonstrators peacefully chanted, clapped and clutched signs that said, “Demilitarize the police” and “Say their names,” — a slogan urging people to remember and recognize the victims of police brutality by name.
According to Ottawa police, the event was mostly peaceful but at one point in the afternoon officers were called to a dispute between two people at the march. An Ottawa Police Service spokesperson said a 56-year-old woman was charged with assault in relation to the incident.
The spokesperson did not disclose any details about the other individual or what might have caused the dispute.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who declined to say Friday morning whether he would attend, arrived on Parliament Hill in mid-afternoon with security guards, wearing a black cloth mask.
The prime minister knelt on the ground at one point in solidarity with the anti-racism demonstrators gathered on Parliament Hill.
Organizers posted a route for the demonstration Friday morning that began at Parliament Hill before heading east on Wellington Street to the Senate of Canada building and turning back down Elgin Street. But a portion march instead followed an earlier plan to turn left to Sussex Drive and demonstrate in front of the U.S. Embassy.
Another group that remained at Parliament Hill later rejoined the embassy group in front of the Senate of Canada building, and together the crowds proceeded along the planned route towards Ottawa’s human rights monument.
The event has been criticized by other Black community leaders for a lack of organization, giving rise to fears of safety for participants amid the novel coronavirus pandemic and an expected police presence.
Though a number of demonstrators attempted to maintain the recommended distancing between one another, crowds were tightly packed for much of the march.
Ottawa Public Health officials offered a series of suggestions before the march to help participants mitigate their risks of contracting the virus, but did not denounce the idea of gathering in this instance, noting “racism is a public health issue and Ottawa is not immune.”
Mayor Jim Watson was also criticized by Black activists for announcing his intention to participate.
Despite statements from the mayor, Ottawa police and organizers expecting a peaceful event, some businesses in the nearby ByWard Market added boarding to the front of their buildings ahead of Friday’s march.
Most of the crowds had dispersed by 6 p.m., with a few gatherings ongoing around the U.S. Embassy and the human rights monument.
With files from Canadian Press.