Protestors at the demonstration.
Protestors at the demonstration.

News | Montrealers demonstrate in solidarity with Black Lives Matter Toronto

Organizers seek to disrupt the Canadian narrative of ‘multiculturalism’

Hundreds gathered at Norman Bethune Square at 6 p.m. on March 29 for two hours to peacefully show support and solidarity with the mobilization efforts of Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO). The demonstration was met with no interference from the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM), although multiple police cars were stationed on site.

Recent mobilization in Toronto has come about in response to the acquittal of the Toronto police officer – whose identity has not been released – responsible for the fatal shooting of Andrew Loku, a 45-year-old father of five experiencing a mental health crisis at the time. On July 5 2015, Loku, a South Sudanese man, was holding a hammer when he was shot twice by police in his neighbour’s home.

“Despite it all, Black Lives Matter Toronto has stood strong – centering warmth and community in the face of vicious anti-black racism and police brutality.”

According to BLMTO’s Facebook event, the peaceful occupation of Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, which began on March 20 and later moved to the Toronto Police Service (TPS) headquarters, has “faced countless attacks from the TPS – ranging from physical attacks, chemical warfare, deprivation of heating and electricity, and various other bullying/intimidation tactics. Despite it all, Black Lives Matter Toronto has stood strong – centering warmth and community in the face of vicious anti-black racism and police brutality.”

The Daily spoke with the organizers of the demonstration in Montreal, Yasmin Ali and Sumaya Ugas, both McGill students. Ugas explained that the demonstration was to show the world that “police violence cannot go unchecked.”

“Cops cannot keep killing people with impunity,” continued Ugas. “The other part of why we’re here is to show love and support and solidarity with the people who are out there in those streets, protesting [in Toronto], who have been met with physical violence.”

“Cops cannot keep killing people with impunity.”

Ali added that another goal of the demonstration was to “disrupt this narrative of ‘Canadian multiculturalism.’” Ali explained, “In general discourse, there’s no Canadian racial problem. The Canadian state constantly feeds us this bullshit and we want to show that there very much is a racial problem in Canada. Black bodies face a lot of institutional violence from the state as well as people of colour in general and Indigenous people specifically. We want to fuck that shit up.”

In a follow-up email to The Daily, Ali elaborated that they were not formally contacted by BLMTO and that they decided to organize the demonstration out of their own volition. Ali said, “Formal communication seems so unnecessary when the bonds you share as black folks living in a white supremacist world run so deep. In regards to location and time, we wanted the rally to occur in an open, accessible, and public space. In terms of support, the QPIRG-Concordia and QPIRG-McGill teams were immensely helpful.”

“Black bodies face a lot of institutional violence from the state as well as people of colour in general and Indigenous people specifically. We want to fuck that shit up.”

The demonstration included spoken word performances and speeches about the topics of police brutality, Black and Indigenous allyship, and issues facing Black women and Black LGBTQ people.

In the opening speech, before inviting guest speakers to share their thoughts, Ali stressed that “it is important to remember who is at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement; this is a movement of black women! Black trans folks, black students, black parents, black disabled folks, poor black folks. These are the bodies that are first to be attacked and last to be supported. We see you and we hear you!”

The Daily spoke with Sidiki, one of the speakers at the demonstration, who called for action from “elites,” specifically students at universities like McGill. Sidiki said that they “have a huge responsibility in having an impact on social justice and social affairs because they are decision makers. People involved in high institutions, whether political or economic, should get involved in trying to promote social justice through laws or endorsement.”

“We see you and we hear you!”

Leslie Anne St. Amour, an Indigenous McGill activist, explained the importance of solidarity and collaboration between Black and Indigenous groups, both of whom have been historically marginalized. “Black and Indigenous people have something in common: We are an inconvenience to the majority. We have felt oppression for years, and now that we demand change, the majority feels threatened. We need to stand strong and stand together,” St. Amour said.

St. Amour continued, “Solidarity means standing behind, and not in front of [others.]”