Demonstrators gather in downtown Victoria as George Floyd protests continue in U.S.

Demonstrators gather in downtown Victoria as George Floyd protests continue in U.S.
WatchA peaceful rally and march took place in Victoria against police violence and the death of George Floyd. The demonstrators joined the voices of thousands of others protesting across North America. Jasmine Bala reports.

People gathered in downtown Victoria on Monday for a peaceful protest against police violence and the death of George Floyd last week in Minneapolis.

The protests have continued across the United States since the May 25 police killing of Floyd, a black man, was captured on video.

“That could be my father, that could be my uncle,” said Ashley Gordon, who was attending the Victoria event. “It could be anyone that I know and all those people that are dying, they do look like me.”

Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who was seen on video pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck, faces charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter.

Some of the protests across the U.S. have turned violent. Buildings are set on fire, police cars are destroyed and stores are ransacked as demonstrators and police officers clash. Curfews have been enforced, tear gas has been deployed, rubber bullets have been shot and many have been arrested.

“People shouldn’t be rioting and stealing and fighting, but how do you judge someone for being violent after watching someone die so violently?” said Montell Lindgren, another demonstrator at the Victoria event. At the same time, “we can’t condone it…. we should be doing it peacefully.”

Organizers of Black Lives Matter Peace March Victoria told CHEK News the rally started at 11 a.m. One phrase adorned the front of most signs held up by demonstrators: Black Lives Matter.

“Black lives matter doesn’t mean that white people don’t matter, that brown people don’t matter, that other people don’t matter,” said event organizer Vanessa, who did not wish to disclose her last name. “We need to have this cohesiveness of all lives matter, [but] the only way to do this is to have black lives matter.”

Everyone attending is encouraged to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as masks, and practice physical distancing.

All attendees are also encouraged to wear white to represent solidarity and peace. Organizers say anyone with other intentions should stay home.

Demonstrators planned to do an evening vigil at 7 p.m. at the B.C. legislature following a march at 5 p.m. All events are outdoors.

About 50 people were in attendance in Centennial Square just after 12 p.m. Organizers said they are expecting hundreds of people and more than 400 people have said they’re going on the Facebook event page.

Signs at the Black Lives Matter rally and march in Victoria on June 1, 2020.

Signs at the Black Lives Matter rally and march in Victoria on June 1, 2020.

Demonstrators gather in downtown Victoria for a Black Lives Matter rally and march on June 1, 2020.

Demonstrators gather in downtown Victoria for a Black Lives Matter rally and march on June 1, 2020.

Demonstrators gather in downtown Victoria for a Black Lives Matter rally and march on June 1, 2020.

Demonstrators gather in downtown Victoria for a Black Lives Matter rally and march on June 1, 2020.

Protests and rallies against police violence have also sprung up in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and elsewhere around the world.

On Saturday, federal minister Ahmed Hussen said in a series of tweets that anti-black racism does not stop at the U.S. border and is a “lived reality” for black Canadians. He also encouraged Canadians to stand up against racism and to check the “unconscious bias” that is within themselves and all around them.

Earlier on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government has invested millions of dollars to combat racism in Canada but acknowledges the status quo is unacceptable and more needs to be done.

Trudeau also said Canadians can’t pretend racism does not exist in Canada, which is why his government has supported a number of initiatives over the years that include developing anti-racism strategies and the better collection of data.

In an emotional address this morning, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh proposed a slew of measures, including better data collection on the treatment of racialized communities and more training for police officers to combat systemic racism.

Singh has previously spoken of his own experiences dealing with racism as a practising Sikh and says while he is angry over Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, Canada has its own problems that need to be addressed.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer also spoke this morning about the protests in the U.S., saying he was heartbroken by Floyd’s killing and that no one should have to live in fear of the police.

And top health officials, acknowledging a striking lack of data on how the pandemic has hit marginalized communities, are encouraging anti-racism rally-goers to make their voices heard while keeping COVID-19 statement in mind.

On Monday afternoon, Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix encouraged people to keep vulnerable family members and others in mind before going to protests. Dix said people should continue to look at alternative ways to have their voices heard and Henry asked people who attended gatherings to monitor for symptoms during the COVID-19 incubation period.

For months, public health authorities have discouraged large gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but neither Canada’s health minister nor its chief public health officer are suggesting people avoid taking part in protests.

“Gathering together is a very powerful way to lend that support and to be an ally,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Monday. “There are ways to do it more safely.”

She suggested protesters make sure they have hand sanitizer and wear masks, because physical distancing may not be possible.

“Although we’ve seen much more peaceful protests in general here in Canada, we still encourage people to be very careful when they’re congregating in large crowds.”

Top doctor Theresa Tam added that signs and noisemakers are safer ways for demonstrators to express themselves than raising their voices.

“Shouting and that type of behaviour can potentially project more droplets,” she said. “Be considerate of others. People are out to protest to support a common goal.”

Both Tam and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada needs to do a better job collecting race-based pandemic data.

“We do know that COVID doesn’t hit everyone the same way … racialized communities are living this very differently than others,” Trudeau said.

“That’s why having accurate pictures of how people are being affected by this – and therefore how we can and should help them – is going to be really important going forward.”

Trudeau said his government has been working with provinces to get more detailed data.

Tam said federal officials are now able to get 99 per cent of case files from provinces and territories, but they still don’t include a breakdown on ethnicity. Her office is working with Statistics Canada to get better information, she said.

She added that local data for cities such as Toronto and Montreal has confirmed certain neighbourhoods have been worse-hit than others, perhaps because of workplace outbreaks or crowded living conditions.

With files from The Canadian Press

Jasmine BalaJasmine Bala

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