Anti-racism demonstrators gathered at multiple sites across Canada on Saturday in protest of the death of George Floyd and systemic racism and police violence against Black people.
The protests began last week in Minneapolis, where Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died after a white officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes during an arrest.
Three other police officers who were present during the incident have also been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
Floyd’s death acted as a catalyst, igniting protests that have now spread across the U.S. and abroad, including into Canada.
In London, Ont., the city estimated that 10,000 people attended a rally on Saturday.
“Racism happens here, it happens to me, it happens to my son, it happens to my friends, and we have just been quiet and silent for far too long,” said Alexandra Kane, a spokesperson for the Black Lives Matter London movement.
In Calgary, an estimated 4,000 people packed Olympic Plaza.
Philip Neilson with BLM Calgary said systemic racism is “not an American problem, it’s a worldwide issue and we need to all talk about it.”
“Talking about it is the most important thing we can do and it must continue,” he said.
People gathered at Nathan Philips Square in downtown Toronto on Saturday afternoon.
But, as the protest began, a person wearing blackface was escorted from the protest by police.
Initially, Toronto police said the man was arrested and charged with breaching the peace, but they have since said no charges have been laid and “inquiries continue.”
They said in a tweet the crowds of protesters remained peaceful as they moved northwest onto Bay and Bloor Sts. downtown.
Meanwhile, a large crowd of protesters who gathered at Trinity Bellwoods Park in the city’s west end marched towards Queens Park chanting “No justice, no peace.”
In Truro, Nova Scotia, a crowd of several hundred also chanted “No justice, no peace!” They waved signs that read “I can’t breathe,” “abolish the police,” and “racism is a pandemic,’” among other messages.
Black leaders, activists and city councillors, including Nova Scotia Human Rights Commissioner Raymond Tynes and Councillor Wayne Talbot, all spoke at the peaceful protest.
Hundreds attended a vigil in Kingston, Ont., called “Justice for George Floyd and all police racism victims.”
Constantin Mugenga, who helped organize the vigil, discussed the importance of standing in solidarity.
“This is about our voice being heard,” he said.
“We want to have this conversation, not to make people feel uncomfortable… but for people to get together and feel that we are supported and we have a voice. And we are all working together to find a solution.”
In Ottawa on Friday, protesters marched to Parliament Hill, where they were joined by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
When the crowd went silent for the time Floyd was held down by the officer, Trudeau put one knee to the ground and bowed his head.
Speaking to reporters earlier that day, Trudeau called recent reports of police violence against Indigenous people in Canada “disturbing,” saying the cases need to be “investigated properly.”
“I think far too many Canadians feel fear and anxiety at the sight of law enforcement officers and authorities of various ways because we have continued to have systemic racism in this country, systemic discrimination that means Indigenous Canadians, racialized Canadians are vulnerable in these situations,” he said.
While Trudeau did not specify which reports he was speaking about, earlier this week, an RCMP officer in Nunavut was caught on camera hitting a 22-year-old Inuk man with the door of a moving truck, and a 26-year-old First Nations mother in New Brunswick was shot and killed by police.
“Over the past weeks, we’ve seen a large number of Canadians suddenly awaken to the fact that the discrimination that is a lived reality for far too many of our fellow citizens is something that needs to end,” Trudeau said.
He said it is not a problem that can be solved overnight, but that the change needs to start immediately.
Friday also saw protests elsewhere in Canada, including Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Regina.
Organizers of a Montreal event scheduled for Sunday told police on Saturday they were rescinding an invitation to police chief Sylvain Caron to attend after some groups opposed his presence.
Montreal police say in a statement posted to social media they respect the organizers’ decision and it doesn’t change commitments the force has made to review measures when it comes to street checks.
–With files from the Canadian Press and Global News reporters