Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe spoke out in support of hundreds of protestors who peacefully gathered outside of the legislature building in Regina on Tuesday in solidarity with worldwide demonstrations against racism and police brutality in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Moe also condemned graffiti that had been painted on the nearby war memorial.
“Today we saw two very different kinds of expression,” Moe said during a COVID-19 update.”We saw a peaceful demonstration in support of tolerance against racial injustice and to make a clear statement that Black lives matter.”
Demonstrations have been held across North America and around the world in response to the death of George Floyd, a Black Minnesota man who was accused of using a fraudulent $20 bill. He died when a policeman knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes as he struggled to breathe. Other officers did not intervene.
Since the incident, police in various American cities have been criticized for using excessive force, including allegedly arresting journalists, firing tear gas and rubber bullets at unarmed protests and the fatal shooting of at least one more unarmed Black man.
“Like so many others, I have been deeply disturbed by recent events we have observed in the US,” Moe said.
“I was disturbed and horrified by the brutal and senseless killing of George Floyd. It’s disturbing to see the use of tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful protestors and it’s disturbing to see some of the protests used as a pretense for violence, for vandalism and looting.”
“Racism remains a problem in our society and in our communities and we should take every opportunity to speak out against it,” he continued.
“We should do so peacefully, and we should do so lawfully.”
Moe said the individual who chose to vandalize the war memorial committed a “disgraceful act.”
He commended the hundreds in Saskatchewan and tens of thousands around the world “who are making their voice heard and are doing so peacefully and safely.”
Moe did not attend Tuesday’s rally. He told reporters he was driving from home and was on a very tight schedule.
He said he hadn’t given the prospect of attending a future anti-racism rally any thought but would consider it.
“I fully understand the reasons these individuals are coming together,” Moe said.
“I think they have the support of virtually everyone, including myself, in addressing what is a societal challenge … that we all face. We see that these voices are being heard and I have all the respect in the world for them as individuals communicating the message that racism is not alright and Black lives do matter.”
While social distancing was encouraged, it wasn’t always followed and not everyone at the demonstration was wearing a mask. Moe said he supported the decision by Regina law enforcement to not enforce the public health order restricting gatherings in this instance.
He said the personal responsibility all citizens have in ending racism is the same as residents have for physical distancing.
“We have the same responsibility in treating people as our equals, regardless of whether they’re male or female, the colour of their skin, the origin of where their ancestors came from — we’re all here together.”
Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab recommended that anyone who attended and wasn’t able to practice physical distancing should self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and consider getting tested.
While Moe shared calls to end racism, he couldn’t provide an update as to his government’s progress in setting up an independent civilian body to oversee allegations of police misconduct in Saskatchewan.
Such a body, which exists in other jurisdictions, has long been called for by advocates who argue having police investigate other police can lead to concerns about the veracity and impartiality of the investigation.
Moe said Tuesday that while some things in government have been reprioritized due to COVID-19, the work to establish such a body had not been shelved.
“It’s something that’s being actively looked at by our attorney general and something we want to move on in the very near future,” Moe said.
Moe said he couldn’t give a timeline, and wouldn’t comment whether any funds had been budgeted to set up such an office in Saskatchewan.