There Was a Time Before Police, There Will Be a Time After: Reportback on (anti) Canada Day Demo in Guelph

Anonymous submission to North Shore

On July 1st, 2020, the day called “Canada Day”, several hundred people gathered in Lions’ Park in Guelph for a march called Black and Indigenous Solidarity Against Police Brutality. Led by Black and Indigenous youth, this march was very exciting and represents a shift in what demos in the city can be. This reportback is the perspective of just one individual who participated in the demo, to share what happened in Guelph with those elsewhere in the region responding to similar issues of racism and policing.

The demo’s culminating moment came at the end, outside the Guelph police station. After organizers had led a vigil for those killed by police in Canada in the past year, installing grave markers on the police station’s lawn, some people began roller painting “Abolish the Police” on the street. The energy from that action spread quickly through the crowd and dozens of people took up chalk and spraypaint to add their own messages against police and the racist world that needs that. This mass redecoration was beautiful in its brazenness and felt very empowering.

The best demos create a feeling of collective strength, allowing us to take up space in new ways, pushing boundaries and expanding the sense of what is possible, even if just for a few hours. That this demo would be different than what Guelph protests usually look like was established from the beginning, where a more combative tone was set that was explicitly not about peacefulness and safety. Speakers emphasized the need for laws to broken if they are to be changed, and that a lot of change is needed. They called for building strength and momentum through solidarity, that this is just a first step towards a world without police.

The difference was felt as soon as the march left the park. The police were nowhere in sight, but there were lots of participants ready and organized to deal with traffic and any safety concerns. The energy was high, with lots of signs and chanting. Fireworks were distributed, adding to the rowdy, celebratory feeling – it feels good to see fireworks getting normalized here, since it opens up new tactical possibilities in addition to being fun. At one point, an “Abolish the Police” banner was dropped from a parking garage as the march passed, accompanied by a volley of fireworks. The march route was not announced in advance, and it moved fast and snaked around, making it unpredictable and harder to control.

Most response from passerby was positive, though downtown, the march passed a bunch of patios where people were celebrating Canada Day, and the interactions there were more tense. Hopefully it wrecked their day a little – it feels important to disrupt thoughtless celebrations of colonial violence like this as we find ways of coming together on a different basis. Some passerby got a bit physically aggressive, but it was deescalated and didn’t create a problem. The biggest disruption came from within, when a person from a local Maoist group who hadn’t been invited to speak managed to get on the mic, in spite of the bad experiences many anti-racist organizers in the city have had with them. They later used this to promote themselves. This kind of opportunism is pretty gross and something to be mindful of in the future.

It felt like this march helped crack the illusion of Guelph as a progressive city that doesn’t have a problem with racism. This is just untrue. That Guelph hasn’t seen a police killing in a few years doesn’t change the role of the police in keeping marginalized people in their places. As the MC of the event said, demos like this are a preventative measure, showing that people are watching and will not wait for someone to die before acting. As part of this commitment, organizers circulated an email address before and during the event for people to submit their experiences of police brutality in Guelph:

The aspect of regional cooperation and sharing of tactics was also really important. People did actions they had seen in recent weeks at other marches (painting a large message on the road) and then took it in our own direction (paint and chalk passed out to the crowd). Event organizers drew on regional networks built up through other campaigns to bring in people with skills that would help them do what they wanted to do in the streets. This all led to an event where a tone was clearly set at the start, allowing for a strong, inspiring march that could culminate in a mass action.


Here are the demands laid out by the organizers of the Black and Indigenous Solidarity Against Police Brutality demo

We say that these demands are just the beginning, with the ultimate goal of creating a community that doesn’t even need police because it is a strong community, there has been a time before police and there will be a time after.

DISARM: police do not need to be armed. police should not have guns if the public does not have guns. Every single police murder that has happened this year has been against an unarmed person. In a city like Guelph, there is not enough gun crime to justify every single officer having a lethal weapon on their person that they can use whenever they want.

DEFUND & DIVEST:: guelph has 134,000 people. We have a police budget of 42 million, but a social services budget of 22 million. We are quickly becoming overpoliced when what we need is strong community supports for our people. There isn’t enough violence to justify 42 million, nor even justify the massive new police station. The problems that we do have warrants a reimagining of the roles that respond to them as they are often crimes of poverty, desperation, marginalization and addiction. We do not need 42 million dollars to continue punishing colonized and addicted people. We demand that the city reinvest the funds that would be taken from the defunding of the police into existing social supports and as well for the creation of newer programs that can bridge the gaps that marginalized communities are seeing in the city of Guelph- specifically with mental health supports, housing, poverty and addiction.