On March 21, demonstrators gathered at the Mont Royal metro station for a demonstration and march against colonialism, racism, and the proposed Quebec Charter of Values.
The peaceful two-hour demonstration, part of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and a recognition of the anniversary of the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa, was organized by Ensemble contre la Charte xénophobe.
According to information on the organizers’ website, the march was meant to address many issues that are prevalent in Quebec.
The site reads, “We support the self-determination and sovereignty of all Indigenous peoples in ‘Canada’ and ‘Quebec.’ […] We remember and salute the anti-racist struggles of the past, especially the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. […] We are opposed to the proposed Quebec Charter of Values (Bill 60), which is an electoral ploy that encourages racism and xenophobia in Quebec society. We march for many more reasons, united in opposition to all forms of oppression and in the belief that our solidarity and unity against colonialism and racism is our most effective tool.”
Demonstrators took the opportunity to address issues of Indigenous land rights. In a speech prior to the march, an activist for Indigenous issues from Calgary (Treaty 7 territory) maintained that recognizing injustice is not enough to combat systemic oppression. “I would of course first like to acknowledge that this demo is taking place on unceded Haudenosaunee territory,” the activist said. “And, having said that, I want to further acknowledge that recognizing that we live and work on stolen territory should be just the first step in respecting those whose lands we are occupying.”
“To be respectful guests on others’ lands requires more than just a simple acknowledgement, and I encourage all settlers and visitors to learn […] and be a good guest while you’re here.”
Many protesters also advocated against the Quebec Charter of Values, proposed by the Parti Québécois (PQ) in September 2013. The Charter would prevent “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols from being worn by public servants. The ability of the PQ to pass the Charter hinges on the results of the next provincial election in Quebec, which will take place on April 7.
Orlando, a demonstrator who identified himself as a member of the “Montreal Local” of the International Communist League, attended the demonstration to protest the Charter. “The Charte [des valeurs] is a racist law that targets a minority of women, mostly, and also Jewish people and Sikhs,” stated Orlando.
“At the same time, [the Montreal Local] talk[s] about the hypocrisy of English Canada, who attacks the Quebec government, but it forgets that it deports immigrants all the time. There are similar laws, although not as radical as this one, in English Canada.”
On the timing of the march, Orlando added, “We believe that elections are a time when people get political.”
An anonymous demonstrator, who identified themselves as a Concordia geography student, related their issues with the Charter back to the student movement of 2012. “I was really involved with the student strike in 2012, and it would just seem really shitty to not go on the streets for […] a more important cause, I think.”
Aggravated, they continued, “This Charter makes me very angry. […] There has got to be better ways to address everyone’s concerns, instead of this talk-down, polarizing thing.”
People of all ages participated in the march, from young children to seniors. One colourful group, The Montreal Raging Grannies, closed the march with a song for Quebec Premier Pauline Marois.