As it happened: Thousands of people gather for peaceful Black Lives Matter march in Kitchener
Published Wednesday, June 3, 2020 7:13AM EDT Last Updated Thursday, June 4, 2020 10:12AM EDT
KITCHENER -- Thousands turned out for a peaceful solidarity march in downtown Kitchener on Wednesday evening to protest anti-Black racism and police brutality.
The KW Solidarity March for Black Lives Matter was organized following a number of recent high-profile, police-involved deaths of black people in both Canada and the United States.
The event began around 5 p.m., but hundreds of people had arrived more than an hour before.
Several Black and Indigenous speakers addressed the crowd before the march set out from Gaukel and Joseph Streets, including MPP Laura Mae Lindo, who was wearing a mask and sunglasses.
"Behind the shades are tears, because I am looking down this street and I know that there is hope for my five-year-old son," she told the crowd, holding back tears.
Fellow protester Kerann Hutchinson echoed the sentiment, saying he was taking the risk during the pandemic so his kids can have a better life.
"It means a lot to me but it means more for my kids. I'm here mainly, I don't want my kids to grow up in the same environment, in the same fear that we have to grow up in," he said.
"I hope that people take the message and make a change. Make a change for all of us."
"I need you to recognize that anti-Black racism is a public health crisis," she told the crowd.
She also criticized Premier Doug Ford for suggesting that Canada did not have the same "systemic, deep roots" of racism as the U.S. Less than 24 hours later, he backpedaled those comments.
"Of course there's systemic racism in Ontario, there's systemic racism across the country," Ford said during a sitting at Queen's Park on Wednesday.
His answer came after he was asked by Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath about her call for the immediate collection of race-based data as it relates to COVID-19.
The speakers were joined by thousands of people in the march, which travelled down Charles Street to Frances Street before turning right down King and eventually looping back around to the terminal.
Organizers told CTV before the march began that they had received online threats, but by the end of the scheduled event at 7 p.m., the demonstration had remained peaceful.
Police were on hand to help the flow of traffic and to keep people safe, but organizers stress that they were not there to walk with them.
"We asked police not, explicitly not to march with us, but let them know that this is an issue that could endanger other people," one organizer told CTV.
Most people who participated were wearing masks and other personal protective equipment, but with such a large crowd, six feet of space for physical distancing was hard to find.
Some people parked their cars along the march route, holding signs out their windows and honking.
"I just knew I had to be here and support in some way, but I wanted to be as safe as possible so I thought, 'get in there and figure it out,'" said Sarah Lessard.
Despite the crowd, as Regional Chair Karen Redman suggested on Tuesday, police officers were there to offer support, not issue tickets.
On Thursday morning, police confirmed that the protest was a peaceful one and that no charges were laid. They said they were not able to offer a crowd estimate, but others suggested that the crowd may have been between 12,000 and 20,000 strong.
The march ended with all attendees sitting on Charles Street next to the former bus terminal with fists raised. Shortly after, the crowd began dispersing.