Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a decentralized movement to end anti-Black racism. It was founded as an online community in the United States in 2013 in response to the acquittal of the man who killed Black teenager Trayvon Martin. Its stated mission is to end white supremacy and state-sanctioned violence and to liberate Black people and communities. The Black Lives Matter hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) has been used to bring attention to discrimination and violence faced by Black people. BLM has chapters in the United States and around the world. There are five chapters in Canada: Toronto (BLM-TO), Vancouver (BLM-VAN), Waterloo Region, Edmonton, and New Brunswick.
Black Lives Matter protesters pause at Dundas Square in downtown Toronto, Ontario, following the deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet and George Floyd (2020).
(Photo by Beth Baisch, Dreamstime.com)
Origins and Aims
On 26 February 2012, George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, during an altercation. Zimmerman claimed self-defense, although Martin, a Black teenager, had been unarmed. In 2013, Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Martin. In response, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi cofounded the Black Lives Matter movement. #BlackLivesMatter was coined by Khan-Cullors after reading a Facebook post written by Garza following Zimmerman’s acquittal.
In August 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed Black man, was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri, by white police officer Darren Wilson. This put the focus of Black Lives Matter on anti-Black racism among police forces. BLM activists have increasingly called for an end to systemic racism and for the defunding of police.
Black Lives Matter-Canada
All five Canadian chapters share the mandate of the original movement. They build connections and work with Black communities, Black-centric networks and allies. Their stated goal is to dismantle all forms of state-sanctioned oppression, violence and brutality against African, Caribbean, and Black cis-gender, queer, trans and disabled populations. Black Lives Matter-Canada is also committed to ending Islamophobia and white supremacy. It has expanded its focus to include Indigenous people in Canada.
Since 2020, BLM activists and their allies have made increasing demands to defund the police and redirect money to other services and communities affected by racism. This includes funding for social housing, education, transit and food security.
Black Lives Matter-Canada: History, Tactics and Results
The first Canadian chapter of Black Lives Matter was established in Toronto in 2014. In November, thousands of activists staged a rally against police brutality outside the United States consulate. They were protesting the September shooting death of Jermaine Carby by a police officer in Ontario’s Peel region, as well as the decision by a Missouri grand jury not to charge the officer who killed Michael Brown. The Toronto rally was spearheaded by activist Sandy Hudson. Shortly after, she founded the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter with Janaya Khan. In July 2015, BLM-Toronto organized a rally protesting the deaths of Carby and Andrew Loku, a Sudanese immigrant shot by Toronto police on 5 July 2015.
In 2016, chapters were established in Vancouver , Edmonton and in Waterloo region. In 2016, BLM-Toronto organized a sit-in during the annual Pride Toronto parade. They protested the presence of uniformed police in the parade and demanded more funding and representation for racialized communities. (Those demands have since been met.)
Also in 2016, BLM-Vancouver decided not to take part in that city’s Pride Parade and protested the inclusion of a police float. The same year, BLM-Edmonton held a rally protesting the deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Phillando Castille in Minnesota, both of whom were shot by police officers. Black Lives Matter chapters in Canada have continued to hold vigils, organize marches and rallies and shut down streets on occasion.
Black Lives Matter has achieved some of its goals in Canada. Those include the acknowledgement of anti-Black racism and classism within the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and mandatory antiracism training at all levels of the board. BLM-Toronto was also part of the successful campaign to remove uniformed “school resource officers” from TDSB schools. It also helped secure city funding and support for Black queer youth in Toronto.
Black Lives Matter has created programs and spaces to support education and activism. This includes the BLMTO Freedom School, a three-week, queer-positive summer program for Black children in the Toronto region, and the Wildseed Centre for Activism and Art.
Black Lives Matter Protest at Queens Park, Toronto, Ontario (5 June 2020).
(Photo by funguyproductions93, Dreamstime.com)
Criticism and Controversy
Black Lives Matter has brought worldwide attention to anti-Black racism and police brutality against Black people. However, some organizations and individuals criticize Black Lives Matter for its views on law enforcement and its their tactics.
Some critics argue that racism and police brutality are not significant problems in Canada, compared with the United States. In fact, comparisons are made more difficult by the lack of race-based data collected by police forces in Canada. (Since January 2020, police officers in Ontario have been required to report the race of individuals in cases where they draw or use a weapon or are involved in an altercation causing serious injuries.) Calls by Black Lives Matter and its allies to “defund” the police have also been criticized as unrealistic and antipolice. Black Lives Matter has maintained that they are not antipolice but rather are fighting for equality and justice.
Others have criticized the group’s tactics, which they see as militant and confrontational. Following BLM-Toronto’s protest at the 2016 Toronto Pride parade, for example, the chapter was criticized for “hijacking” the event.
Some Black Canadians have also criticized Black Lives Matter as elitist and classist; they argue that it is led by and accessible to those with a university education but is not representative of the Black community.
The Black Lives Matter movement continues to protest and inform about anti-Black racism and brutality against Black people. The 2020 deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet and D'Andre Campbell in Canada and Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in the United States sparked protests and demands to defund police services. They also led to international Black Lives Matter movements and protests in countries such as Britain, Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan and New Zealand.