Thousands march against anti-Asian racism and hold vigil for victims of Atlanta mass shooting

Activists demand acknowledgment of attacks against Montreal’s Asian community since the pandemic

Thousands of supporters gathered in a march against anti-Asian racism following the death of multiple Asian women in a mass shooting in Georgia. The march was organized by Asian activists in Montreal and was followed by a vigil to pay respects to the eight victims of the shooting, six of whom were Asian women.

On March 21, people gathered at Cabot Square as early as 12:30 p.m. and quickly grew to over 2,000 supporters at its peak.

Organizers led the crowd towards Chinatown in a peaceful march at around 2:30 p.m. Supporters walked along Ste-Catherine St. holding colourful signs and chanting, “Stop Asian hate.” Just before 3:00 p.m., organizers stopped in front of Premier François Legault’s office on Sherbrooke St. 

Following the march, a more intimate crowd held a vigil for the victims of the Atlanta mass shooting: Hyun Jung Grant, Sun Cha Kim, Soon Chung Park , Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Young Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun and Paul Andre Michels. The vigil and day’s events ended with supporters laying flowers, lighting incense and leaving notes in the park to pay their respects.

Protesters demanded the provincial government recognize the existence of systemic racism and its impact on racialized communities. Photo Léa Beaulieu Kratchanov

The march from Cabot Square to Sun-Yat-Sen Park in Chinatown was organized by the Progressive Chinese Quebeckers and the Groupe d’Entraide Contre le Racisme Envers les Asiatiques au Québec. Both the PCQ and the GECREAQ are grassroots aid groups, created in an effort to cultivate safe spaces for Asian-Canadians to share incidents of hate crimes. Major Canadian cities have seen an increase in hate crimes against Asians since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Vancouver saw an increase of up to 700 per cent from the previous year. In Montreal, 30 crimes targeting Asians were reported between March and December 2020, up from six reported in 2019

In Montreal, a Korean man was stabbed in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce in May 2020. Last week, another Korean man was attacked with pepper spray in the Plateau. “The statistics [published recently] are only the tip of the iceberg,” said Julie Tran, GECREAQ administrator and co-organizer of the march.

“The kind of racist rhetoric around Chinatown, China the country, and COVID-19 has really stigmatized our neighbourhoods and made our communities scapegoats,” said Karen Cho, a member of the PCQ. 

“We’re [not only] hoping to bring attention to all of the hatred and racism our community has faced this year, but continuously and historically have faced,” Cho said. “We have a problem in Quebec where we do not, at all, discuss systemic racism. And the roots of these problems need to be addressed.”

“It hasn’t even been a year that we were here last, shouting at the top of our lungs that Black Lives Matter. And we find ourselves here today having to shout that the lives of the Asian community matters.” — Stéphanie Germain

Quebec’s minister against racism, Benoit Charette, was among the crowd at Cabot Square and booed when acknowledged by May Chu, a representative of the PCQ. Charette and Legault continue to deny the existence of systemic racism in the province.

Part-time Concordia faculty member in the studio arts, Jinyoung Kim, was among the list of speakers. Kim, who identifies as Korean-Canadian, spoke to honour the victims of the Atlanta mass shooting—of the six Asian women who died, four of them were Korean. Kim made references to a press conference held in Cherokee County, Georgia, where Capt. Jay Baker said the 21 year-old white gunman denied racial motivations behind the attack, and that the shooter was having “a bad day.”

“It is this rhetoric that has killed those women. [...] It is this lack of accountability from the authorities that sustain the condition of unrest for our community,” Kim said to the crowd.

“It hasn’t even been a year that we were here last, shouting at the top of our lungs that Black Lives Matter. And we find ourselves here today having to shout that the lives of the Asian community matters,” said community activist Stéphanie Germain. Germain was among hundreds of Black participants who marched on Sunday.

Hundreds of non-Asian BIPOC attended the march in solidarity. Photo Léa Beaulieu Kratchanov

“I’d like to remind you that when we gather in the streets like this, it is not an outing or a cultural activity. This is not a pleasure for us [...] if we have to gather in these streets, it’s because of your inaction. You are not doing your jobs,” Germain said, addressing Charette and Legault directly.

The end of the march led to a vigil organized by sex worker advocacy group Stella, l’amie de Maimie. Members of the LGBTQ2S+ community, sex workers and victims of sexual assault spoke of the impacts recent events had on them. 

“There’s a lot of nuanced things that need to be said about how these massage [businesses] were targeted and why. [Including] this mix of anti-sex work, anti-immigration sentiment and anti-Asian racism,” executive director of Stella, Sandra Wesley, said. “This event touches both our community as sex workers and the Asian community. We think that solidarity is very important.”

In GECREAQ’s public Facebook group, members uploaded their photos from the march and vigil the following day. One member wrote, “Rest in peace to all the lives lost and love to all the marginalized communities hurting right now. Thank you to this group for being a safe space.”