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Anti-racism protesters march in Toronto; Trudeau calls systemic racism real

TORONTO — Anti-racism demonstrators marched in Toronto on Thursday in a protest reflecting anger at the police killings of black people, with similar demonstrations planned for elsewhere in the country.

The protests come after the death of a black man at the hands of a white officer in Minneapolis sparked days of sometimes violent demonstrations in the United States.

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called videos and reports that have surfaced across the country in recent weeks “disturbing.” Those include an encounter between an Indigenous man and the RCMP in Nunavut.

While each case needed to be investigated, Trudeau said the larger issue of systemic racism in policing was long-standing and needed addressing.

“Far too many Canadians feel fear and anxiety at the sight of law enforcement officers,” Trudeau said. “Over the past weeks, we’ve seen a large number of Canadians suddenly awaken to the fact that the discrimination that is a lived reality for far too many of our fellow citizens is something that needs to end.”

Change, he said, needed to start immediately but would not happen overnight.

In anticipation of the Toronto protest and others planned for the city over the weekend, several businesses on downtown Yonge Street and surrounding area boarded up their windows. The landmark Eaton Centre closed until Monday as a precaution.

Demonstrators also planned to march from Parliament Hill through Ottawa’s streets in an event organized by No Peace Until Justice, formed by a young black woman. The goal was to bring together black activists and organizations and allies to stand in solidarity against police brutality and societal racism.

Organizers asked police to stay away and said they had not invited Mayor Jim Watson, who said he would attend. The group also said it opposed all live-streaming and video or photos of the demonstration to protect the identity and safety of those attending.

For their part, Ottawa police said public safety was a shared responsibility.

“We are working with organizers and all stakeholders to enable a safe, healthy and positive event,” the police service said Thursday. “You have a right to be heard. And we will support that right by ensuring your safety.”

Participants must recognize the COVID-19 pandemic is not over and police were working with organizers and Ottawa public health officials to make personal protective equipment available to demonstrators, the force added.

Similarly, Toronto’s police chief has said officers would be on hand to make sure any protests stay peaceful.

“There is a lot of passion, there is a lot of anger and there is a lot of hope and I hope that as Torontonians we continue to do that,” Chief Mark Saunders said.

The various demonstrations followed protests across the U.S. after a video showed a Minneapolis officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes even as he pleaded that he couldn’t breathe before dying on the sidewalk.

-With files from Jim Bronskill in Ottawa

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 5, 2020.

Colin Perkel and Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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