Peaceful protest against police violence followed by clashes between officers and demonstrators

Over 20,000 Montrealers came out to support a message against racism and police violence yesterday.

Clashes between police and protesters broke out Sunday night in the aftermath of a peaceful demonstration against police brutality. Organizers of the protest said they want the focus of the event to remain a message against racism and police violence.

An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people gathered downtown to attend the protest, which had been dubbed Justice for Victims of Police Killings and was organized by a group of community activists. The event was created in solidarity with protests in the U.S. surrounding the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota last week after a police officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes. Floyd was suspected of using a counterfeit 20 dollar bill to purchase cigarettes.

Marlihan Lopez, one of the protest’s organizers, said the event aimed to address the systemic issue of police violence not only in the U.S., but in Canada as well.

“This is not an American issue, this is also a Canadian and a Quebec issue,” said Lopez, before naming Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Black woman from Toronto who died after an intervention with the police last week. Police had been called to assist in a domestic conflict involving Korchinski-Paquet. Shortly after arriving, police emerged from Korchinski-Paquet’s apartment and informed her family that she had fallen from the 24-story balcony. The incident is currently under investigation.

Protesters take a knee in front of a police line that had formed later in the evening.

Those who attended the protest said they came to support changes to systematic injustice. Chants such as “No justice, no peace,” “I can’t breathe,” and “Black lives matter” rang out throughout the march.

“I have four boys and we live to make sure that they will be growing in a safe place,” said Karen Abelard. “[Being] here is important not only for us, but for the future, for our kids.”

26-year-old Lindsay Williams, a white protester, said,“I feel like we need to use our voice and our privilege to do this. Even though this is scary and uncomfortable, it’s time to be scared and uncomfortable.”

Events began to turn around 8 p.m. Although the majority of protesters had left the area, police began lining up in full gear on certain streets, blocking the path.

“The moment that we want to do something for Black people they’re blocking us off,” said an anonymous protester in response to this issue. “We’re being peaceful about it [but] we’re still not getting the chance to get our word across.”

At 8:11 an SPVM bus equipped with a loudspeaker announced that, as some protesters were engaging in unlawful conduct, the protest was now deemed illegal. The crowd was ordered to disperse.

SPVM relations told the Concordian, “at this point objects were thrown to [sic] police officers, so that’s why we gave the warning and said that the demonstrations were illegal— some criminal act[s] had already started.”

According to Luca Caruso-Moro, a Concordia Journalism student who was live tweeting the event, there was still a large group of protesters demonstrating peacefully in front of the SPVM headquarters on St-Urbain when the message to disperse was played.

“[This] was then followed only seconds later by several tear gas canisters being shot into the air,” said Caruso-Moro.

Protestors dispersed as the police line advanced and officers continued to shoot tear gas canisters. Meanwhile, some individuals began breaking windows on the Bell building on St-Urbain, while other protesters yelled at them to stop. Some protesters gathered to form a barricade, which was eventually put to the side for a firetruck to pass.

“The majority of people that I saw continuing to demonstrate after the initial rounds of tear gas were fired were doing so peacefully,” said Caruso-Moro.

Clashes ended around 11 p.m., with officers continuing to monitor the area throughout the night.

Over 70 cases of mischief were reported, including vandalism and breaking and entering. Of the total 11 arrests, nine were for breaking and entering, one was for assault with a weapon, and one was for mischief. SPVM said that investigations are currently underway and may result in further arrests in the following days.

Marlihan Lopez said that, despite the clashes, the message of the protest should remain focused on justice against racism and police violence.

“The vandalism isn’t the story, the graffiti isn’t the story, the looting isn’t the story, and even the protest is not the story: the story is police violence, it’s anti-blackness,” said Lopez.

Another protest is scheduled to take place on Sunday, June 7.

Photos by Hadassah Alencar


Concordia statement on Black Lives and demandsfor an anti-racist pedagogy



Learning from the 1969 Computer Centre Occupation

50 years ago, a riot called the Sir George Williams Affair occurred at Concordia University. About 200 students occupied a computer centre here at Concordia for 14 days to protest institutional racism. What resulted was the largest student occupation in Canadian history and two million dollars in property damage.

Rodney John, one of the eight students who raised the initial complaint of racism against the university’s administration, said of the event’s survival in public consciousness: “The only thing people know is that there was an occupation, that the computers were destroyed,” in an article by CTV. We at The Concordian think that it is important to revisit the overlooked details in order to remember the event in its entirety, as the specifics may hold relevance to some of our own campus initiatives today.

Here is a brief timeline of the protest according to an essay titled “The Georgian Spirit in Crisis: the causes of the Computer Centre Riot,” written by Keith Pruden in 2004.

On Apr. 29, 1968, a cohort of eight students approached the Dean of Students, Magnus Flynn, with the claim that a lecturer in the biology department, Perry Anderson, was influenced by racial bias. The Dean promised to look into the matter, and students apparently “trusted the university to deal with the situation fairly.” On June 14, the university declared that “there is no substance to the charges of discrimination and racism leveled against Mr. Anderson,” and in the fall semester Anderson was promoted from lecturer to assistant professor.

On Dec. 5, the students approached the school principal, Dr. Rae, to find out why Anderson had been cleared. Dr. Rae knew little of the situation and agreed to set up an investigative committee. On Dec. 6, there was an emergency meeting in the Faculty of Science, and another on Dec. 12, both of which were unproductive and the students’ faith in the institution was diminishing. That day, Dr. Rae resigned from his position as principal. After several more meetings, the university set a hearing committee with the first meeting on Jan. 26. Students refused to comply with this procedure, however, since the committee was entirely chosen by the administration, and thus was obviously biased.

Only after all this—nine months of unresolved complaints—did the students’ frustration culminate into their occupation of the computer centre. The occupation was intended to get the university to agree to five specific demands concerning the judicial process around the Anderson matter. According to CTV, it remained peaceful until the police were summoned to remove protestors, which triggered a fire. It is disputed whether the fire was started by the police or by the students, but it had the immediate effect of smoking protesters out of the building. Also, this led to the physical destruction of the computer centre and the arrest of 97 students, according to the same source.

It is troubling that what is remembered most about this event, as Rodney John notes, is the occupation and destruction of property. Modern retellings fail to recognize that the university initiated the violence by sending in the police (who are no doubt responsible for some—perhaps all—of the property destruction in the centre). Instead, the media paints protesters as impulsive and destructive, when in reality, several attempts over almost a year’s time were made to negotiate with the university administration on their terms prior to the occupation.

This event can teach us about a strategy that seems to be used all too often—either intentionally or unintentionally—by the university, which is to lose people in the paperwork. Often, when bureaucratic issues like this are raised, the process is drawn for so long that complainants either forget, lose interest, or feel too helpless and move on from the issue. The 1969 protesters didn’t allow the university to get away with this strategy, and it resulted in them gaining coverage from every major news source in Canada, and being remembered 50 years later.

Students like the ones who took part in the Computer Centre Occupation have gradually helped to establish Concordia as a progressive school—or at least one with politically-conscious students. This can work in favour of current student-activist groups, since the student body’s potential for disruptive protests is well known, which gives certain bargaining power to campus groups. The computer occupation and similar protests serve as reminders to the administration that students are willing to persist and even put themselves in danger for issues that they feel strongly about. We feel that this reminder can only be effective, however, if we commit to remembering these events in their entirety.

Graphic by Ana Bilokin


Anti-black assimilation in academia

Concordia alumna and BIPOC Committee bring attention to academic racism

Concordia University alumna Sophia Sahrane has had more than enough first-hand experiences with academic racism. Her account is only one of many, highlighting a bigger problem—the anti-black rhetoric ingrained in university education across North America.

How committed is Concordia to ensuring a positive university experience for students of colour? According to Sahrane, not very. Until she hosted an orientation event earlier this month featuring Angela Davis in conversation with Robyn Maynard (both black activists, feminists, educators and authors), Sahrane said she had never seen that many black people in the same space at Concordia.

Furthermore, the event featured an unofficial priority seating policy for anyone who was black, Indigenous or a person of colour (BIPOC), despite the objection of several CSU executives.

“The [priority seating] was important because it recognized that universities were not built for us, our experiences, our realities, our identities,” Sahrane said. “We have been pushed to the margins of academia, but in this moment, we had a place in this academic space and it was in the front row.”

According to Sahrane, the proposal for BIPOC priority seating was initially made by Leyla Sutherland, the Concordia Student Union’s student life coordinator, and the rest of the CSU orientation team, but was overruled by other CSU executives before the event.

Sutherland and the orientation team pursued Angela Davis as a guest speaker and originally brought up the priority seating policy after consulting with the BIPOC Committee—a student group founded last year by Sahrane herself when she was a CSU executive.

“Universities are not built to welcome racialized people, but student movements, associations and spaces aren’t built for it either,” Sahrane said. “I was lucky enough to occupy a position of privilege within the community, so I decided to create the BIPOC Committee in an attempt to balance out the lack of resources for BIPOC folk.”

While she wanted to ensure that racialized students could have a voice at Concordia, Sahrane said attempting to end institutionalized racism in universities is a much loftier goal. However, she said she believes the creation of a black studies program at Concordia would be a step in the right direction.

“Course curriculum at Concordia doesn’t even scratch the surface of discussing BIPOC individuals’ roles and contribution in history, politics or society,” Sahrane said, referring to her experience in the Faculty of Arts and Science. Throughout her four years of study at Concordia, Sahrane was never taught by a black professor. “Even black history and black literature is taught by white people,” she said.

According to Sahrane, she and many other Concordia students and scholars have advocated for the creation of a black studies program, but have been met with a severe lack of action by the university.

Concordia spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr said that while there are many conversations happening on campus about diversity issues in course curriculum, “at this point, nothing specific has been proposed” regarding a black studies program.

Despite the lack of progress, Sahrane said a black studies program would drastically alter a black student’s university experience.

“I don’t think assimilating or integrating black students within a white-dominant framework will ever work,” Sahrane said. “We should make sure that the black experience [is] never forgotten or dismissed within existing academic structures.”

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

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