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Thousands fill downtown Toronto streets to protest anti-Black racism
TORONTO -- Thousands of people filled the streets of downtown Toronto on Friday to protest against anti-Black racism following similar demonstrations in the United States and the world over.
Friday's demonstration, dubbed the “I Can’t Breathe Toronto March”, started at 12 p.m. at Bloor-Yonge Subway Station and saw protesters travel in large groups towards Nathan Phillips Square.
The event is one of several planned for this weekend in Toronto.
The demonstration’s namesake is in reference to George Floyd’s dying words. The 46-year-old Black man died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed face down on a Minneapolis, Minn. street on May 25.
Floyd had been arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit bill at a nearby store. He was unarmed.
In the days that followed, all 50 States participated in protests against anti-Black racism, some of which turned violent.
As a result and in preparation of today’s event, a number of downtown Toronto businesses had taken the unusual step of boarding up their windows to prevent potential looting, which has been observed in some of the stateside protests, but has been largely condemned by protest participants.
In a statement released hours before the march, event organizers said they had heard reports of “riot groups” coming into the city as well as concerns over potential looting, neither of which appear to have taken place
“We originally wanted this to be a march with friends and family who wanted to participate against the cruelty to Black lives and the crooked system. It blew up far beyond our reach and now we just want to follow the proper way of still trying to send out the message that we demand change,” the organizers said in a news release.
Participants were given clothing marked with the words “I can’t breathe” when they arrived at the demonstration as well as a routed map to follow.
Speaking to particpants before today's demonstration, Deslin Aventus, one of the organizers of the event, urged people to walk in socially-distanced groups of five people or less in adherence with COVID-19 public health measures.
Black Lives Matter-Toronto and Not Another Black Life, who organized last weekend's rally, have both said they are not involved in any of the planned protests.
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders was on hand for today's protest. He was seen taking a knee with several other officers near Yonge and College streets in a show of solidariy with the demonstrators.
Speaking to reporters, Saunders once again reiterated his calls for peace while underlining the significance of the event.
“I’m hoping, from the bottom of my heart, that this is a peaceful protest. I know that 99 per cent of the people are here peacefully. They’re sending a message that’s important; they want all levels of government to hear about it. All levels of government are hearing,” Saunders said.
“And that’s a good first step. What we do next is what is going to be critical, because those words have to be manifested with actions.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford was asked about the protest at a news conference Friday in which he applauded Saunders for his leadership.
“I have a great deal of respect for Chief Saunders. Showing incredible leadership—I saw the picture, man that was impactful. That’s what you call true leadership, is what the chief did.”
While Ford said he had not planned to meet with the organizers of the event, he added that he was “appreciative” of the peaceful nature of the event..
Knia Singh is the lawyer representing the family of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Black woman who fell from a 24th-floor balcony in High Park following an interaction with police, and said that while it’s “good” that the police chief is listening, the community ultimately wants action.
"We need to understand why there is a history of Toronto police engaging with people, in either crisis situations or non-crisis situations, and they’re ending up dead," Singh said speaking to CP24.
“Action is the only thing that’s going to make a difference.”
Mayor John Tory spoke on the protests in the city at a news conference on Friday afternoon saying that anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism needs to end.