‘Defunding is the first step’
Thousands march peacefully for change in Toronto, uniting with demonstrations across Eastern Canada
Rallies in Toronto hear calls for police funds to be divested, as U.S. protests grow in wake of shooting. Coverage,
At least 2,000 protesters marched toward Toronto’s downtown police headquarters Saturday afternoon, after two peaceful but passionate demonstrations that called for funding to be transferred from police budgets to community organizations.
Several protests were held across Eastern Canada, including events in Montreal, Fredericton, Halifax and London, Ont., in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Organizers called upon cities to reduce police budgets by 50 per cent. Demonstrators from the Coalition for BIPOC Liberation said public money should be shifted to community initiatives, such as smaller class sizes, affordable housing, jobs for youth, better mental health treatment and civilian conflictresolution services.
There were cheers at Christie Pits as a speaker called for an end to the prison system. Other demonstrators pushed for the release of prisoners who can be rehabilitated, with only extremely violent offenders remaining in custody.
Some protesters wore pink and red arm bands, signifying they were monitors on call to help anyone in distress.
“We’re going to take care of each other,” a speaker at Christie Pits said, to a chorus of cheers. “We keep us safe.”
“Today we are here to abolish the police,” another speaker said, to another round of cheers. “Defunding is the first step. It is simply the first step.”
Calls to withdraw police funding have amplified and multiplied in Canada and the United States in recent months after the death of George Floyd in May during a police stop in Minnesota.
The situation intensified a week ago after a police officer in Kenosha, Wis., shot Jacob Blake in the back seven times, leaving the 29-year-old Black man paralyzed.
In the GTA, some protesters were critical of a report released Wednesday by the Special Investigations Unit, which cleared seven Toronto police officers in the death of 29-yearold Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell from a west-end highrise balcony with police on the scene in May. There were megaphones, masks, social distancing and music at a late-morning uptown rally and march at Downsview Park, as well as the much larger afternoon event downtown. Protesters carried signs such as “Defund the police,” “Defund brutality, fund humanity,” “Cops aren’t supposed to kill guilty people either,” “Abolish the police” and
“Black Lives Matter.” “We demand our basic human right to live peacefully with the equitable opportunity to live our best lives, take care of our families and support our communities,” protesters with Not Another Black Life said in a prepared statement.
“Without the removal of the laws of colonialism, the liberation of Black, Indigenous and people of colour will cease to exist. Invest in people, not police. Reallocation Committees will ensure funding divested from police forces will be reallocated back to communitybased initiatives.” The spectre of COVID-19 hung over the day, with masks, sanitizer and water made available to marchers, who largely observed physical distancing. A supporter who identified himself as FuzzyWuzzyTO tweeted, “I’ll be honest, COVID makes me very nervous about going to the big Defund Police rally today at Christie Pits … but I figure PoC (people of colour) risk their lives every day just by breathing, so it’s kind of the least I can do. I’ll be as careful as I can.” Among the marchers were supporters of Forward Through Progress and the Afro Indigenous Rising Collective, who said on Facebook about the push for massive cuts to police budgets: “We need to DEFUND as a means to ABOLISH.”
Local events began with a First Nations cleansing ceremony, acknowledging that the demonstration was taking part on traditional Indigenous lands.
Some demonstrators acted as marshals when the groups marched. The events were monitored by Toronto police from a distance while providing traffic control.
About 2,000 protesters march from Christie Pits to police headquarters, calling for an end to racism and the defunding of police in favour of social services.
Another group of about 100 protesters gathered at Downsview Park and marched to York University, promoting the same desire to shift police funding to community-based alternatives.