Protesters poured down into the streets of downtown Ottawa on Friday afternoon. Photo: Dasser Kamran/Fulcrum
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Protestors wore face masks and were provided with hand sanitizer, water bottles and snacks

Ottawa showed up in the thousands on Friday, June 5, 2020, for a peaceful march of solidarity in honour of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by police in Minneapolis by a White officer who kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes. Many protestors carried signs reading “Racism is the pandemic,” and some wore face masks reading “I can’t breathe,” in reference to Floyd’s, and many other Black victims’ of police brutality’s last words. 

The protest was organized by Ottawa resident Sameha Ahmed, who formed the group behind the event, No Peace Until Justice Ottawa. 

In their mission statement, No Peace Until Justice Ottawa called for the defunding of police and emphasized the need to fund Black-led community organizations. 

“We demand that all local, municipal, provincial and federal institutions and organizations develop concrete plans of action to combat anti-Black racism,” the statement reads. 

“Racism in so-called Canada is a reality.” 

People gathered at Parliament Hill for the march, where Ahmed, along with other Black community leaders echoed this message and addressed the crowd with rousing speeches and chants. 

“I stand strong yet so tired. Tired of the injustice of abuse faced by many members of the Black community, here and abroad,” Ahmed said. 

“14 days ago my 14 year old niece entered my room following the death of George Floyd. She needed answers, and as importantly, like many Black people who are currently traumatized by the events, she needed reassurance,” she shared. 

“Today it is my niece that is knocking at my door, 10 years ago, it was me seeking safety. 10 years from now, we refuse to see Black children, Black women, Black men, Black boys, Black girls, and Black gender diverse folks to be scared for their lives.”  

Ahmed went on to address government officials. 

“Let us use today to make a crucial call to action. This march is not a social media moment, this is not another hashtag. We call upon the government to take concrete actions for black voices that demand an end to anti-black racism in Canada, because we matter.” 

Along with stories of anti-Black violence, speakers shared their experiences of systemic racism in Canada and in Ottawa specifically. They demanded that politicians take their call to action seriously. 

“It is not enough to just hear us,” president of Equal Chance and U of O alumna, Gwen Madiba said, addressing policy makers. “You need to listen to us.”

Madiba went on to describe injustices faced by Black people in the workplace, and in schools, explaining that “diversity without inclusion is like policy without implementation.”

Among the crowd was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who took a knee with protestors as the organizers listed the names of Black people who have been killed by police. One of those names was Abdirahman Abdi, an Ottawa man who was killed by a police officer in 2016, whose case was never solved. 

“Despite a worldwide pandemic… we are all here today because we feel there is a need to collectively mark this moment in history,” a representative from Ottawa group, Justice for Abdirahman Abdi said. 

“Let us stop the ridiculous rhetoric that Canada is immune to racism,” she added. “We cannot be better if we do not acknowledge our faults.”

Organizers then asked the crowd to take an eight minute moment of silence, to remember the lives lost, and to recognize the over eight minutes that Floyd was being choked by a police officer. 

The march then began, going down Elgin Street and passing City Hall, ending at the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights Monument, where a second panel of community leaders, activists, religious leaders, and artists shared stories, interpretive dance, and further calls to action. 

Some of the crowd also ended up outside the U.S. Embassy.

This was one of the many marches that took place throughout Canada and around the United States in the past two weeks, demanding systemic change and an end to police brutality.