George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police on May 25 has sparked a wave of protests in the United States, in Canada, and around the world.
Over the past two weeks, millions of demonstrators have taken to the streets. Coverage in the U.S. has focused largely on the massive displays of support in major cities, but demonstrations have also been held in smaller towns across the country.
The same has been true in Ontario: thousands have grouped, gathered, and marched in such major centres as Ottawa and Toronto to speak out against anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism. But events have also been held in Guelph, Thunder Bay, Niagara Falls — and the list goes on.
This week, TVO.org will talk to those involved in the movement in cities, towns, and other communities across the province about what they're fighting for — and where Ontario should go from here.
Today: TiCarra Paquet, 20, and Liam Cousineau, 19, who helped organize the June 3 march in Sudbury.
TVO.org: What led you to get involved in organizing the march?
TiCarra Paquet: How I got involved with the Black Lives Matter movement in Sudbury is that my cousin, her name is Regis Korchinksi-Paquet, on May 27 of this year, the police were called to mitigate a domestic dispute. And, unfortunately, she lost her life. She was a Black woman dealing with mental-health issues. How could a call for assistance lead to a loss of life? In Toronto, this has sparked a lot of demonstrations — even across Canada. We organized an event on June 3: an anti-police-brutality march for Regis. From that, we had about 300 to 500 people there at the rally.
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TVO.org: My condolences. Forgive me if I’m going into an area that’s personal, but did you know Regis?
Paquet: Regis is my first cousin. She is my father's sister's daughter. We ended becoming a little bit more distant as we grew up, just because they live in Toronto, and I live in Sudbury. However, when I was younger I did know her fairly well. But it still really affected me because this is a family member. This issue is so near and dear to me. So, yes, I was affected.
However, Toronto specifically is having a large uproar over this situation. Regis kind of sparked Sudbury’s Black Lives Matter movement, which is at least something that came out of this.
TVO.org: How have you seen racism manifest locally, either at an individual or a structural level?
Liam Cousineau: People seem to want to invalidate the reality of our situation in Sudbury, but I can promise you that every Black person you've met, and those that you haven't met, in Sudbury have grown up experiencing racism just because we are such a marginalized group. We are such a small minority in Sudbury. And, on top of that, we often fail to recognize that in institutions in Sudbury. In my school, we didn't do anything special for Black history month. We failed to cover certain areas of Black history in our Canadian history classes.
Paquet: To add to that — I mentioned that I’m Indigenous, but I'm also Black. And my roots stem from being Black Nova Scotian. A lot of people don't know of the underground railroad coming to Canada. My grandfather was one of the first Black people to even come to Sudbury. His stories that he shared with me were that he had to live in abandoned houses and unlocked cars on the street because no one would rent him a house. Getting a job, he had to hitchhike every day. No one wanted to hire him. This stuff is the type of thing that happened maybe 40 years ago, and that's still the foundation of what society is now. And I know Liam and I have experienced some forms of racial discrimination within Sudbury.
TVO.org: You mention your mixed identity of being Black and Indigenous. To what extent is understanding anti-Indigenous racism important to understanding the current conversation?
Paquet: Indigenous people, particularly, experience disproportionate rates within the criminal justice system at all levels, whether it be from policing or from the courts. In my speech at the protest, I mentioned that Black people represent 3 per cent of the population but represent almost 10 per cent of those in federal prisons. However, Indigenous people also represent around 3 to 4 per cent of the population but represent about 30 per cent of those in federal prisons. Obviously, there's a problem there.
TVO.org: Why do you think those disparities exist?
Cousineau: For Indigenous people, it is because they hold a lot of power in society that a lot of people don't understand. They are the first people of this country. If the government starts giving them the power that they have the inherent right to, then it changes the dynamic of a settler society where British colonialism is the foundation. For Black people, it's kind of the same thing.
Paquet: I think another way to say that is that Indigenous worldviews, ideologies, and epistemologies don't align with Eurocentric worldviews, ideologies, and epistemologies. And when they try to operate within these institutions that don’t align to what their personal beliefs are, it's hard for them to really exist and be productive members in that society,
TVO.org: Some people may not think of Sudbury — or northern Ontario in general — as a place that’s home to people of diverse cultures and backgrounds.
Paquet: We are very present. There’s a large group of minorities in Sudbury, and our voice needs to be heard just as much as that of white settlers. Regardless, even if there is a white majority here, that does not excuse racial discrimination.
Cousineau: This might seem contradictory, but just because we have a small Black community in Sudbury doesn't mean we don't have a big Black community There have, in the past, been lots of different Afro-heritage events. We've had Afro Fest here in the past. We've had a multitude of different multicultural events where people gathered. We share food. We share experiences. We have speeches, dances, singers, different types of expositions where people can show their culture.
This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
This is one in a series of stories about issues affecting northeastern Ontario. It's brought to you with the assistance of Laurentian University.
Ontario Hubs are made possible by the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust & Goldie Feldman.