Protesters gather, take to the streets for peaceful anti-Black racism marches

Hundreds of people took part in anti-Black racism demonstrations Saturday afternoon in downtown Toronto following a week of peaceful protests.

At Nathan Phillips Square, a few hundred people gathered after 1 p.m. for a rally, many wearing masks and physically distanced.

The crowd grew considerably by 2 p.m., and the protesters headed for the U.S. consulate on University Avenue, where organizers asked participants to take a knee and observe eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence in honour of George Floyd, the Black man killed by police in Minneapolis last month.

Joining the protesters taking a knee were Toronto police officers, including Insp. Matt Moyer, who said in an emotional interview he took part for the community and his kids, and called the crowd “ambassadors for peace.”

The march then headed to Yonge-Dundas Square where a man in blackface makeup confronted the crowd. Police quickly stepped in and arrested the man for disturbing the peace.

Protesters then headed north on Yonge St.

At Trinity Bellwoods Park, hundreds more gathered in an anti-Black racism protest that began at about 2 p.m. The protesters there also observed a minute of silence.

The large group then headed west and turned north to march up Bathurst St., past Toronto Western Hospital where staff turned out to watch.

Some downtown retailers, notably along Yonge and Bloor Sts., were boarded up with plywood earlier this week as a precaution.

The Eaton Centre is closed for the weekend and the TTC has said subway station entrances connected to the mall at both Dundas and Queen will be closed this weekend.

The expected demonstrations Saturday come a day after a peaceful protest that saw thousands marching peacefully through downtown Toronto, chanting “Black lives matter,” “I can’t breathe” and “George Floyd, say his name.”

Protesters stopped at Yonge-Dundas Square and Nathan Phillips Square. Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders showed up at the Friday demonstration, taking a knee with protesters.

A group of about 200 people later gathered in Nathan Phillips Square for a candlelight vigil organized by Addis Wara from Etobicoke and her friend Andie Brown, from Scarborough.

The vigil was held, not just to remember the lives lost to police brutality and anti-Black racism, but also to COVID-19, Wara said.

In Ajax, hundreds of people turned out Friday night to peacefully protest the need for change.

At a peaceful demonstration Friday in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau knelt with protesters on Parliament Hill in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds — the length of time a Minneapolis police officer kept his knee on Floyd’s neck as Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe.

While American cities have erupted in violence amid world outrage over the police killing of Floyd, Toronto’s protests have been peaceful.

Mayor John Tory told reporters Saturday that he hasn’t ruled out attending a protest in Toronto. He added that he was also prepared to kneel.

“I certainly would be quite prepared to take a knee . . . in the context of showing my respect for the protesters and my respect even more importantly in a way for the cause they represent,” Tory said at GlobalMedic Headquarters where volunteers were packing hygiene kits for front-line, health-care workers.

Tory said he hopes the protests remain peaceful.

“I just think that’s the Toronto way of doing it — heartfelt, but peaceful,” Tory said.

Events are also planned in Niagara Falls, where the Whirlpool Bridge to the United States will close later Saturday to all but essential traffic so demonstrators can protest.

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Meanwhile, organizers of a Montreal event scheduled for Sunday have told police they were rescinding an invitation to police chief Sylvain Caron to attend after some groups opposed his presence.

Organizers of last weekend’s protest in Toronto said they’re not affiliated with the latest demonstrations in the city.

Black Lives Matter Toronto and Not Another Black Life, which organized last Saturday’s march in honour of Regis Korchinski-Paquet — the 29-year-old woman fell to her death from a High Park highrise in the presence of police — stated on their Instagram accounts that they were not affiliated with weekend demonstrations.

Korchinski-Paquet’s death is being investigated by Ontario’s civilian police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit.

With files from Laura Armstrong, Margaryta Ignatenko, David Venn, Patty Winsa and The Canadian Press