Hundreds of people marched together Sunday in Montreal to denounce systemic racism and hate crimes against Asian people after eight people — including six Asian women — were killed in a series shootings in Atlanta earlier this week.
Montreal City Coun. Cathy Wong, speaking at Cabot Square before the march began, said incidents of discrimination against Asian people in the city have been happening throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
"And what's hard is that we don't feel safe in the streets; we don't feel safe when we go grocery shopping; we don't feel safe in public spaces," Wong said.
Montreal police say they recorded 22 crimes targeting Asian people between March and December of last year — 19 more than the year before.
The march moved from Cabot Square to Sun Yat-Sen Park, where a vigil was held to commemorate the victims of the attacks in Atlanta.
Erica Zhang, who attended the march, said she felt sick when she heard the news out of Atlanta this week. "Just sad, really sad and really angry. I didn't have the words to express how I was feeling," she said.
Zhang said she's avoided going out during the pandemic out of fear of being targeted by racist behaviour.
Thy-Anh Nguyen and her cousin, Chi Vu, came to the march to show their support for Asian women and the local communities — but also for their elders, who they said are especially vulnerable to discrimination.
"With all the hate crime going on right now, I'm always thinking about my parents," Nguyen said.
Wong, the first person of Chinese descent elected to the city council, said Sunday's rally was also a "great moment of solidarity" for local communities.
"It is one of the first times the Chinese and Asian community has come together in Montreal, protesting and talking about racism," she said. "And I think this is a positive step toward recognizing this issue in Montreal."
'Hurdles to overcome' in addressing anti-Asian racism
Montrealer Anne Beaulieu, one of the organizers of the march, told CBC Montreal's Daybreak she felt she needed to take action to denounce the Atlanta attacks.
Her Facebook group, Groupe D'entraide contre le racisme envers les asiatiques au Québec, organized the march along with Progressive Chinese of Quebec and sex workers advocacy group Stella to honour the victims of the shooting and to denounce ongoing acts of racism against Asian communities.
WATCH | Montrealers march against anti-Asian racism:
May Chiu, a member of Progressive Chinese of Quebec, said she wanted the march to provide a safe space for people to call out issues of racism.
"I think that there's a challenge in talking about racism, understanding racism, the different forms of racism," Chiu said. "And when you talk about specifically anti-Asian racism, again we have another few hurdles to overcome. People don't know how to identify it."
Chiu said many people still think racism can only be a physical act, but said she and many others have to deal with racist verbal attacks and microaggressions on a daily basis.
Chiu, a Montreal lawyer who strives to defend the human rights of others, said she sometimes feels like her own rights are being trampled on.
"I go to court almost every week and almost every week I'm questioned as to whether I am a lawyer, if I belong in the courthouse," Chiu told Daybreak.
Beaulieu said she's also faced racist incidents, but things have gotten even worse since the pandemic started. She suggested that the Montreal police statistics may not fully encompass the actual number of crimes that took place.
"Just to take action and file a complaint with police is not necessarily accessible to everyone and to Asian communities," Beaulieu said.
"There's not necessarily this trust with the police, it's also hard to make your point and prove you just experienced microaggressions or verbal attacks and also it is hard to always have to explain and relive your experiences — that can be traumatic."
LISTEN | A march against anti-Asian racism: