OTTAWA • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined thousands in taking a knee in front of Canada’s Parliament in solidarity with US protesters marching against racism and police brutality.
It marked a rare public outing for the Canadian leader since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, as protests spread outside the United States after police in Minnesota killed an unarmed black man.
“Far too many Canadians feel fear and anxiety at the sight of law enforcement officers,” Mr Trudeau said at his daily briefing earlier on Friday. “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.”
Mr Trudeau, holding a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt, chanted from behind a mask along with the crowd that extended several blocks to the US embassy, and later stood in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
This was the length of time that a white police officer in Minneapolis had knelt on the neck of Mr George Floyd, an unarmed African-American, who died after pleading “I can’t breathe”.
“Look at the diversity of this crowd,” said Families Minister Ahmed Hussen, who joined Mr Trudeau at the Ottawa protest. “These are not just black Canadians. It’s everyone who’s saying black lives matter.”
Similar protests took place in cities across Canada. In Toronto, police chief Mark Saunders and several uniformed officers met protesters marching through downtown, and also took a knee.
“We see you and we are listening,” he tweeted. “We have to all stay in this together to make change.”
Mr Saunders’ actions drew praise from Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who called images of the city’s first black police chief joining protesters “impactful”.
Ottawa protester Stephane Kribodo said there was too much racism “in the world, in France, in the United States, in Canada”, adding: “It’s important to stand up against it if we want change.”