The Yellowknife RCMP and the City of Yellowknife are insisting they never opposed a Black Lives Matter march Tuesday between the Multiplex arena and RCMP headquarters.
At one point of the demonstration, one of the main speakers, Ambe Chenemu, after encouraging the crowd to chant in unison – ‘Defund the police’ – told demonstrators that police had refused their request to march but they did it anyway.
“Before we did what we’re here for today we reached out to the police and we said, ‘well can we just march?’ And they said, ‘no.’ Right?” said Chenemu.
“And here’s the thing – the oppressor will never have the right way to protest. Right? If you march, they have a problem with it and they say, ‘oh that’s not the right way to protest.’ If you kneel, they have a problem with it. Well you can kneel. So what are we supposed to do? Right? So what are we supposed to do? We’re supposed to take over. Yeah, so we are taking over.”
The crowd then chanted in unison ‘We are taking over.’
Chenemu later said in phone interview Thursday that he hadn’t directly contacted police but got the information from other organizers.
“I didn’t personally reach out to the police but this was based on feedback we got from the other organizers,” he said, declining to provide a name.
Yellowknife RCMP, some of whom watched the event from outside the detachment where the demonstrators had gathered, stated in an email Thursday that they were not part of discussions on what type of procession or march would be permitted.
“The City’s Municipal Enforcement Division (MED) worked with organizers to facilitate an escort for this peaceful event to ensure public safety,” stated city spokersperson Alison Harrower. “The event was communicated to MED as solely a vehicle procession and as such the ability to conduct a march was not discussed.”
Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty was in attendance at the event and Coun. Cynthia Mufandaedza spoke at the event.
“I heard that (Chenemu’s speech) but from my understanding, the police didn’t say that,” stated Alty in a message to NNSL Media. “The organizers chose to follow the Chief Public Health Officer’s advice re: crowds which is why they were encouraging people to drive instead of walk. When they heard about the event, the RCMP and MED reached out to the organizers and asked what assistance they could provide which is why MED was doing traffic control for it. I’m not sure how the confusion occurred between Ambe and the organizers.”
Mike Westwick, spokesperson for the the GNWT’s Covid-19 response, confirmed that an email was sent to organizers Monday. He added that Chief Public Health Officer Kami Kandola had no interaction with police officials to provide “marching orders” either.
The email was provided to NNSL Media and in it, Kandola provides a list of directions to protect the public from Covid-19. Among them was to ensure that volunteers have brightly coloured vests to be identifiable, clear guidance of the route so to avoid contact with volunteers, bylaw officers and participants, ensuring face coverings were worn and controlling the crowd in a way to limit contact.
“As much as possible, limit demonstration to a motorcade event where people stay in vehicles,” states one direction.
Another asks for organizers to have speeches “co-ordinated as an online event so people can stay in cars and listen with headphones plugged into smartphones. Avoid a central podium/stage set-up but still ensure that the finale is held at Multiplex where there is sufficient space to hold the cars and people.”
Full recommendations from Chief Public Health Officer (source: email from Chief Public Health Officer, June 8, 2020)
- Have any volunteers be easily identifiable with brightly colored vests if they plan to support City By-law in controlling the procession to ensure orderly movement.
- Provide as clear a guidance as possible to limit contact with volunteers, city bylaw officers and participants. Post directions or guidance and have appropriate signage.
- As much as possible, limit demonstration to a motorcade event where people stay in vehicles
- Ensure that everyone has on hand a facial covering (bandanna, scarf or mask ) that they can use
- On return to Multiplex for 4 p.m. speeches, have it coordinated as an on-line event so people can stay in cars and listen with headphones plugged into smartphones. Avoid a central podium/ stage set-up but still ensure that the finale is held at Multiplex where there is sufficient space to hold the cars and people
- Crowd control may be an issue should people choose to get out of cars. Have designated areas where you can space 25 people apart by 6 feet. Household units do not need to physically distance nor children 12 and under outdoors. Mark these areas for congregation with signage and appropriate ribbons/pylons or cordoning off.
- Separate these congregate areas from other areas by at least 50 feet should you achieve more than 25 people congregating in one location
- Ensure hand sanitizer is available. Discourage any people congregating indoors. Those who must access washroom facilities in Multiplex need to stagger entry and use hand sanitizer in and out. Ensure City of Yellowknife do appropriate environmental cleaning of facilities before and after