Brian Champ in Toronto reports on an upsurge in demonstrations against institutional racism and violence
Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd on 25 May. Two days later, in Canada, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a young Black Indigenous woman, fell or was pushed to her death from her 24th-floor apartment in Toronto. Her family had called for help with an episode of mental distress she was experiencing. The Toronto police arrived, removing the family from the home, leaving only Regis and police inside. Moments later she was dead.
There is a long history of Toronto police killing of Black and Indigenous people, and of people suffering mental distress episodes. Those killed include Sammy Yatim, Michael Eligon, Andrew Loku and Jermaine Carby.
In response to continuing police violence, and inspired by the movement in the US, local group #NotAnotherBlackLife called a protest for 30 May demanding justice for Regis. Around 10,000 people gathered at Christie Pits park and marched to Toronto Police HQ. People of all colours, ethnicities and faiths participated, chanting “Black Lives Matter”, “No Justice No Peace, No Racist Police”, and recounting the names of these latest victims of racist police violence.
A week later, thousands protested in Burlington, west of Toronto. Demands to defund police and redistribute funds for social services and infrastructure suddenly gained broad support and protests mushroomed.
Every major city in Canada, along with many smaller centers, held protests. Communities across Toronto’s suburbs marched for Black Lives, demonstrating the movement’s reach. City councils are considering motions to defund the police. Leamington cancelled its $5.2 million contract with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), and in Toronto and elsewhere police have taken a knee, as if begging protestors to let them stay around!
The latest demonstrations are linked to pre-pandemic protests. on 17 February, when 15,000 marched in Toronto in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people after they were invaded by militarised Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) enforcing Coastal Gaslink’s plans to run a pipeline over Wet’suwet’en traditional territory. The mounted police have been engaging in such behaviour since their creation in 1873, since when they have consistently forcibly removed Indigenous peoples from their land onto tiny reservations. This continues to be a genocide of indigenous peoples and their laws, knowledge and culture.
Police violence against Indigenous people continued in June. New Brunswick RCMP killed Chantal Moore in her home during a ‘wellness check’, and days later shot dead Rodney Levi, a Mi’kmaq man.
RCMP deliberately used the door of a police vehicle to knock down a young Nunavut man before violently arresting him. RCMP beat and arrested Fort Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam in Alberta. RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki claimed any racism was due to “unconscious bias” of individual officers, but under public and political pressure she admitted to systemic racism within the force. She has also failed to act on recommendations of the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Many are now calling for her resignation. These incidents are the latest in a long line of police racism and violence in Canada.
The police are racist to the core. We need to disarm and disband these increasingly militarised ‘bodies of armed men’.