Foul weather did not deter protestors at the fourth annual Mass Demonstration Against Racism on Oct. 27. The Collective Against Hate and Racism marched through the Parc-Extension neighbourhood in Montreal to protest Bill 21, Quebec’s law banning visible religious symbols, Bill 9, an immigration reform geared toward prioritizing “skilled workers,” and the rise in hate crimes in the province. The march began with speeches by representatives from the Fédération des Femmes Québec, Le Droit d’Enseigner pour Toutes et Tous, Justice Femme, Solidarité sans Frontiéres, Forum Musulman Canadien, and Parc-Ex Contre Gentrification.
Amy Darwish, spokesperson for Parc-Ex Contre Gentrification, highlighted the importance of the protest’s route shift out of downtown.
“Today’s march is taking place in the streets of Parc-Extension and […] this is no coincidence,” Dawish said. “Parc-Ex has long been a neighbourhood [that the] working class, low income immigrants, and racialized folks call home. While it’s one of the poorest neighbourhoods [in Montreal], its also one where residents have built long standing efforts of mutual aid and a lot of people support each other to get by despite negligent landlords, exploitative workplaces, and exclusionary immigration system. All this is changing with the arrival of UdeM’s campus.”
Despite Parc-Ex’s history of strong community ties, the group fears the opening of the Université de Montréal’s (UdeM) new campus in their neighbourhood and anticipates increased gentrification. Organizers of the protest believe this is another instance of racism in Quebec, this time affecting one of its most vulnerable neighbourhoods. Samar Majzoub, president of the Forum Musulman Canadien, outlined the need for government response to the situation.
“It is not acceptable for any government to shy away from defending the basic rights of women and its citizens,” Majzoub said. “The only thing that will solve [racism] is to come together. Our call is not to say that we are racist in Quebec, it is to say that there is a problem that needs to be […] taken care of very seriously.”
In a march that lasted around two hours, approximately 300 people circled Parc-Ex chanting ‘No one is illegal’ and ‘The people united will never be defeated.’ Despite the protest’s peaceful nature, police presence was heavy—there were four Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SVPM) buses were parked on side streets nearby.
The peaceful protest drew a diverse crowd, reflecting the wide range of issues raised by the collective, including many immigrants. One such protester, Jordan,* a student at UdeM, described his disappointment at the lower level of awareness of this social justice march versus the recent climate strike.
“I remembered how a lot of people were here when there was the climate march, and I found it a bit unfair that there is not as much enthusiasm for these kind of social justice marches against racism,” Jordan said. “I wanted a more intersectional approach and to see [more] people of colour.”
Some onlookers video-taped the protesters, peeking out of shop windows while organizers passed out flyers titled ‘Why we are here,’ outlining the Collective’s grievances in a single page document. For the organizers, the main priority was to denounce racism in Quebec.
“We will not stop, [because] this is a human rights issue,” Majzoub said. “We are not giving up and we are very optimistic. It is a matter of time. And we believe, as Quebecers and Canadians, we can find common ground in understanding what human values are.”
*Jordan’s name has been changed to preserve their anonymity.