Thousands of people gathered on Saturday afternoon in the streets of downtown Montreal to denounce systemic racism in Quebec, nearly a week after the death of Joyce Echaquan, a lady from the Atikamekw community of Manawan, which occurred Monday at the Joliette Hospital.
Tears in the eyes for some, deep anger for others, the emotions were diversified at Émilie-Gamelin Park, where the “Justice for Joyce” rally began on Saturday around 1:00 pm. As soon as the first people arrived on the scene, organizers said it was important to maintain social distancing, and volunteers were handing out masks to people who didn’t have them.
Norman, Chief of the Dene First Nation, opened the ceremony with a prayer in his mother tongue. The Buffalo Hat Singers trio then played a song to the beat of the drums. In the crowd, the many people who had brought a drum, whose sound represents the beating of the heart, followed the rhythm dictated by the musicians.
It is a revolution of our hearts and our mentalities that it takes, and it is only thanks to the movement that we are starting today […] that the political class will have no choice but to line up behind us.
Not all of the people in the crowd had drums, but several of them still had a sign on which we could read the event’s slogan, “Justice for Joyce.” Joyce Echaquan’s face was also visible on many posters.
Gradually, the crowd grew bigger and bigger. While people were all gathered in Émilie-Gamelin Park at the start of the speeches, hundreds of people then invaded rue Berri to hear the guests denounce systemic racism.
Indeed, all the people who spoke on Saturday assured that systemic racism exists in Quebec. “Our sister Joyce lived it. Everyone has experienced it: in Joliette, in Montreal, in Sept-Îles, in Val-d´Or, everywhere in Quebec “, exclaimed the vice-chef of Manawan, Sipi Flamand.
Criticism of politicians
Throughout the afternoon, much criticism was leveled at the political class, who were not doing enough to counter racism according to several guests. Prime Minister François Legault has been strongly targeted by these criticisms, since he “does not even recognize systemic racism”, Sipi Flamand recalled.
The co-spokesperson for Québec solidaire, Manon Massé, in particular described François Legault’s attitude towards the First Nations as “contemptuous”. “And that has to change!” », She concluded.
The leader of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, Ghislain Picard, also addressed the crowd. He was keen to point out that without the video Joyce Echaquan posted live on social media hours before her death, no one would have known about her story. “It is taking a revolution in our hearts and in our mentalities,” he said, “and it is only thanks to the movement that we are starting today. […] that the political class will have no choice but to line up behind us. “
The City of Montreal’s Indigenous Relations Commissioner, Marie-Ève Bordeleau, and the President of Quebec Native Women, Viviane Michel, also gave speeches to denounce the current situation and demand more government action.
After the speeches, the crowd, which at the time numbered thousands, began to march through the streets of Montreal. Still to the rhythm of the drums, the procession moved peacefully to the Quartier des spectacles, where other interlocutors spoke.
Protesters still present were treated to a surprise at this second rally, when the speaker announced that Quebec had pledged to hold a public inquiry to clarify the circumstances that led to the death of Joyce Echaquan. The crowd then exclaimed with joy.
The Executive Director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, Nakuset, and Mohawk activist Ellen Gabriel, in turn, delivered vibrant speeches denouncing racism and calling for the unity of Quebecers to eliminate this scourge from society.
For his part, the Dr Stanley Vollant, who works in the health network in Montreal, said he has witnessed many times racist acts in the health network, a situation he called “shameful”.
Joyce Echaquan’s close family were not present in Montreal for the demonstration, as the funeral service for the 37-year-old woman was being held at the same time in Saint-Félix-de-Valois, near Joliette.
Many guests have sent their condolences to her husband, Carol Dubé, and their seven children. A moment of silence was also observed to honor the memory of Mr.me Echaquan.
Another rally took place at the same time in Quebec to denounce systemic racism. The Quebec City Police Department said in a statement that the demonstration took place “in peace and order.”