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Thousands gather for anti-racism rally in downtown Vancouver
Published Friday, June 5, 2020 11:15AM PDT Last Updated Saturday, June 6, 2020 12:17PM PDT
VANCOUVER -- A crowd of thousands turned up for an anti-racism rally in downtown Vancouver on Friday, paying tribute to victims of police violence and listening to the lived experiences of local people of colour.
The event at Jack Poole Plaza began with a call for attendees to kneel and raise a fist in honour of George Floyd, the man whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police last week has sparked waves of international demonstrations against systemic racism.
The gathering also came in the wake of a more local, and even more recent tragedy. Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old woman from the Tlaoquiaht First Nation on Vancouver Island, was shot and killed by police in New Brunswick on Thursday after they were called to perform a wellness check on her.
There were attendees of all ages, the majority of them wearing masks to decrease the likelihood of transmitting COVID-19. Some also tried to maintain two metres of separation from others, but the size of the crowd made proper physical distancing nearly impossible for many.
Participants carried signs that read "Racism is a pandemic too," and "Humanize don't criminalize." Many highlighted that Canada, despite some people's perceptions, has much work to do addressing racial inequality. Kimberly Ehizode's sign, written in bold red letters, said: Canada is not innocent.
"I'm here today to bring awareness to what's going on around the world, and in our country," she said.
Mira Madumere, who stood beside her, added: "I'm tired of people being mistreated for having the same colour skin as me."
Organizers stressed the importance of maintaining a peaceful demonstration, and three hours into the event there were no signs of trouble.
Speculation that there could be rioting similar to what's been seen in U.S. cities led a number of downtown businesses to board up their windows this week, despite repeated messages from organizers that they were planning a peaceful event.
The people behind the rally even pivoted from their initial plan for Friday's demonstration, which was to gather near Trump Tower and march to the waterfront, after deciding it would be safest to gather in one place.
There was no hint of violence at last weekend's rally at the Vancouver Art Gallery either, which drew an estimated 3,000 people.
Organizer Jacob Callender-Prasad said the show of support at that event was astounding.
"There's no words that can describe the feelings and emotions that came in when I saw all these people come to a protest," he told CTV News this week.
"The truth is, we all had a part to play and make this happen. I'm so proud to call myself a Canadian, so proud to call myself a Vancouverite, to call myself a Black Canadian, and seeing our community come together, it was amazing."
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry did express concerns that the large gathering could have exposed people to COVID-19, and asked everyone who attended to self-monitor for symptoms for two weeks.
Ahead of Friday's event, she recommended people wear masks and stay physically distanced from one another. She also suggested attendees plan smaller gatherings of around 50 people in different locations to keep the risk of transmission as low as possible.