What You Need to Know About the Anti-Police Brutality Protests in Canada

Halifax protest organizer Kate Macdonald explains why Canadians are marching, how to find hope amidst chaos and what non-Black Canadians can do to support equal rights.

A protestor holds a sign at the Not Another Black Life protest in Toronto on May 30, 2020Photo: NixZ/Shutterstock
A protestor holds a sign at the Not Another Black Life protest in Toronto on May 30, 2020.

A video sparks outrage over police brutality

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man from Minneapolis, died when a white police officer named Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. At the time, Floyd was in handcuffs and face down on the ground. When a video of Floyd’s death went public, it sparked outrage, igniting protests against police brutality and anti-Black racism in several countries around the world, including Canada. In some cities, those protests have stretched on for days. While many have remained peaceful, videos of rioting, as well as footage of police violence against protestors, have surfaced from several locations in Canada and the United States. The protests have already led to changes.

Kate Macdonald is a Halifax-based facilitator and youth coordinator who helped to organize ongoing protest actions in her city. She explains why Canadians have joined the protests, how to find hope amidst chaos and what non-Black Canadians can do to support equal rights. 

Reader’s Digest Canada: We’ve seen protests in all 50 U.S. states, and some have been going on for nearly a week. What are Americans protesting?

Kate Macdonald: There’s been an onslaught of Black lives lost at the hands of police. George Floyd, whose name has been in the headlines this past week, was one of them. But there’s also Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT who was fatally shot in her home by police when she was sleeping. Tony McDade, an unarmed Black trans man, was shot by police and died in late May. The list goes on. People are protesting police brutality and anti-Black racism.

You helped to organize a protest in Halifax. Who and what were protestors marching for?

The justice system in America isn’t exactly the same as ours. But police brutality takes place here and is just as deadly as it is in the U.S. It disproportionately affects Black and Indigenous people. We were marching in solidarity with Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Toronto woman who died in late May when police responded to a mental health-related call at her home. Her death is currently under investigation and many Canadians want transparency about the events that led to her death.

What do you mean by transparency?

Oftentimes, when officers are involved in the death of a civilian, we see police departments investigating themselves. The details of those investigations are rarely made public and almost never result in criminal charges or convictions. That’s not justice.

Calls to defund police are picking up steam. Does “defunding” mean we won’t have police anymore?

Defunding doesn’t mean that activists want the police system to disappear tomorrow. In most cities, police departments are the largest budget expense. A lot of folks are calling for the reallocation of funds to community programs and Black and Indigenous organizations.

In Halifax, like in most places, we have a housing crisis. Defunding the police could also involve investing more money into affordable housing and tackling poverty, which could in turn lead to less need for law enforcement.

We are hearing the terms “de-arm” and “de-militarize” the police. What does that mean and what could that look like?

Police weaponry makes many situations deadly when they don’t have to be. Does a wellness check on an unarmed person really require an officer with a weapon? Or could a trained crisis-intervention worker be called to deescalate the situation in some cases instead? 

Let’s say I see a large group of people that I’m concerned aren’t social distancing properly. What are some alternatives to calling the police?

Check in with the people in your community. Try talking to them. For all you know, they might be a large family. Or they might disperse on their own. I’m all for taking precautions, but we need to understand that calling the police on a Black person can actually cause more danger and escalation.

Kate MacdonaldPhoto: Kordeena Clayton
Kate Macdonald.

I never learned much about Canada’s history of racism in school. Neither did many of my colleague and friends. How does that history still affect people today?

The African Nova Scotian community is almost 500 years old, and we’ve have had our own struggles with systemic racism. Just one example: in some townships like Preston, N.S., Black families were given land in 1775 and 1812. But the government didn’t provide them with land deeds. As late as 2017, some Black families still didn’t have deeds for their land, even though they’d long paid property taxes. Discriminatory policies from centuries ago are still making it hard for families to pass land down to their descendants.

Talking to family members about the news, I’ve heard people say they want to fight anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, but don’t know where to start. What can non-Black and non-Indigenous Canadians do to help?

Allies can take the time to overcome prejudice. They can write to or call their city councillors, mayors and federal politicians, and ask for the reallocation of police funding to community programs. They can contact police precincts and demand truth and transparency around specific accounts of police brutality.

You can also contribute money to Black and Indigenous organizations within your community, such as Black Lives Matter or a local Native Women’s Shelter. Or you can look up online fundraisers for individual Black Canadians and contribute to those. 

What kinds of things have you seen allies doing that are well-meaning but not terribly helpful?

We don’t need videos of police brutality to be reposted so much on social media. Watching them can actually be deeply traumatic. When images like that flood social media, it also means kids can see them, sometimes without an adult there to help them process the disturbing things they’re seeing.

Allies need to be solutions oriented. Start posting about ways to stop police brutality. Get involved. We can’t really afford to wait. People are dying and have been for a long time.

What is giving you hope right now?

The knowledge that we don’t have to do this alone. We have a lot of guidance from folks that are older than us. It’s so helpful to have elders to talk to who have been in this fight for decades. We’re able to ask for their advice and build on their work.

The general public has also been receptive in Halifax, which is beautiful to see. I’ve seen lots of white folks who I haven’t noticed at other protests. I’ve also met lots of young Black folks. They’re the next generation, and they’re here, ready. That makes me feel so proud.

Next, learn how Canada creates barriers for non-white immigrants.

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