“Who wants love? We want love!”
This was the chant that could be heard across Uptown Port Alberni on Saturday, June 6 as hundreds of people marched up Argyle Street to City Hall to protest racism and police brutality in Canada.
The protest was also an opportunity to remember the life of Chantel Moore, a Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation woman and former Port Alberni resident who was fatally shot by police in Edmundston, New Brunswick on June 4.
Brenda Sayers, a friend of Moore’s family, opened the ceremony on Saturday. Sayers has started a GoFundMe for Moore’s family—who will be travelling to New Brunswick to practice traditional Nuu-chah-nulth grieving protocols—that has raised more than $100,000.
“On behalf of the Martin family, I’d like to thank people across Canada and the United States and other parts of the world who have wrapped their arms around the family,” said Sayers.
Sayers also delivered a message to politicians and First Nations leaders across Canada:
“Stop treating us like our lives don’t matter,” she said. “Indigenous lives matter. Black lives matter. And Chantel’s life mattered. When one of us gets hurt, it hurts our family, it hurts our community, it has a domino effect. The system needs to be restructured so that it serves the people, protects the people.”
The protest on Saturday ran for more than an hour, closing down one block of Argyle Street as people approached a microphone to tell their stories about Chantel Moore, sing songs and share their own experiences of racism in Port Alberni.
Moore’s family is remembering her as a “wonderful human being, who was kind, warm and gentle.” The Edmundston Police Force has stated that Moore was holding a knife and making threats before she was shot, but Moore’s family does not believe this is true.
“Why did the police have to use such brutal force against a petite, First Nations woman?” the family asked in a statement, read by Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns at the protest on Saturday.
Johns also offered his own condolences to Moore’s family.
“These are preventable lives lost,” he said. “Racial discrimination crosses every institution across society. We need greater accountability. The RCMP needs greater accountability. I need to be more accountable as your Member of Parliament,” he added, to applause from the crowd.
During a council meeting on Friday, June 5, Tseshaht First Nation passed a motion calling upon the government of New Brunswick to hold an independent inquiry into Moore’s death.
Ken Watts, elected councillor for Tseshaht First Nation, said on Saturday that Moore had “deep connections” to Tseshaht.
“We want to send healing energy to her family and her friends and her daughter—somebody who doesn’t have a mom because of what happened,” Watts said. “It’s important that we acknowledge the past, and the people who laid the foundation for where we are today. There’s people who have been fighting to end racism for decades. We look at what’s happening in the U.S., but we have to remember that it’s happening right here in our own backyard.
“We all have a chance to be on the right side of history, and that’s why you’re all here today,” he added. “It’s up to each and every one of the people here to educate other people, to open up your hearts, to love people. Because there’s enough hate in this world.”
Saturday’s “Port Alberni Protest Against Police Abuse of Power” was started by Port Alberni residents Terra Peterson and Graham Hughes.
“I made the event on Facebook, and Graham Hughes reached out to me to help organize things,” Peterson explained on Saturday. “I just wanted to show support. There are a lot of people dying—too many. And we’re facing our own issues here in Canada. I just wanted to provide a platform for people who need one.”
Drive-by protest was peaceful
Saturday’s gathering wasn’t the only protest that took place in Port Alberni last week.
On Thursday, June 4, Port Alberni teacher Joy Couttenier organized a Peaceful Drive By Protest outside of the Port Alberni RCMP detachment in order to comply with COVID-19 social distancing restrictions.
“I was trying to plan something that was safe, but I still wanted to show that we could still show our voice,” said Couttenier.
Couttenier said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the turnout. Around 50 people showed up to stand outside of the RCMP detachment or drive around the detachment, carrying signs to protest racism and police brutality. Cars stopped and parked for one minute of silence in front of the detachment to remember George Floyd, a black man who lost his life at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota last month.
Couttenier said that she originally organized the protest to support one of her students, who was experiencing racial discrimination.
“I had a lot of support from a lot of people,” she said.
She explained that she did not want the drive by protest to be a “protest against police,” and reached out to the RCMP detachment for help organizing the event.
“They helped me plan and organize how to meet,” she said. “It is difficult to come together in COVID times, but it worked out well.”