N.S. premier impressed by Halifax protesters; says U.S. political response to George Floyd's death 'offensive'
HALIFAX -- “No justice, no peace, no racist police.”
That was one of the chants that rang out in downtown Halifax on Monday evening, as thousands of people gathered for the Take a Knee to Make a Stand protest. People of all ages and backgrounds came together, calling for an end to racism and police brutality.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says he understands the hurt and anger people are feeling in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
Floyd died last week in police custody in Minneapolis. Video shared widely online shows a police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. The entire time, Floyd is handcuffed, lying on the ground and repeatedly telling officers he can’t breathe.
"It's not the first time this has happened and quite frankly, the political response in the United States has been offensive to the world in my view,” said McNeil.
The large crowd at the protest this week in Halifax prompted concern from some on social media, who were worried about such a large gathering in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If we see new cases in the next week to two weeks and we identify through that follow-up of individual cases that exposure really was a common source, we will take further actions if necessary, in terms of notifying people and maybe doing broad testing.” said Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.
“As people are coming together to rightfully and respectfully protest, it’s absolutely necessary and important, but we still need to understand following public health protocols around social distancing, masking, etc., are still critically important.”
Halifax Mayor Mike Savage says side streets were marked off by police to provide more space for demonstrators and that people were asked to wear masks.
Nova Scotia remains under a state of emergency. Public health orders require people to stay six feet away from anyone who isn’t in their household "bubble" and not to gather in groups of more than 10.
"Certainly, it's a concern in a group that size, but it's also a very big concern when somebody dies with a knee on their neck and that has to bring some kind of response as well,” said Savage.
Legal expert and Professor Emeritus Wayne MacKay says, under the Canadian Charter, there is also a right to gather in any number that is effective to make a protest.
"In order for a protest to be effective, there has to be enough numbers to send a message,” said MacKay.
“They don't have to be close. So that's why I think you can do physical distancing. There's nothing wrong with them wearing masks, so I think they can do that, but I think to limit it to 10 would basically take away the impact of the protest."
Halifax Regional Police did not issue any tickets at the protest for failing to respect physical distancing.
“With these types of situations, we have to prioritize our actions and really our main priority is that the demonstration happened peacefully and that’s what we saw,” said Halifax Regional Police spokesman Const. John MacLeod. “We know that the community has gone through significant hurt, that they want to have their say and they want to have that peaceful protest and we respect their right to do that.”
Although he would have liked to have seen more physical distancing at the protest, the premier said he was impressed with the protesters.
"I was pleased to see most of you in masks, it would have been better if we were able to self-distance yourself, but you were respectful of one another, you were peaceful and you made your point very clear,” said McNeil. “You are fed up."