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'Hate has no place in our province': Officials commend stand against racism but warn against large gatherings

Last Updated Jun 2, 2020 at 7:18 am PDT

FILE - Thousands of people gathered in Downtown Vancouver May 31 as part of a protest against racism and police brutality. (Patrick Swadden, NEWS 1130 Photo)

Province commends peaceful demonstration, acknowledges people wore masks, but says large gatherings are still risky

Health Minister Adrian Dix says demonstrations need to be done differently during the pandemic

There is still a limit of gatherings over 50 people

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — While commending people for speaking out against racism, the provincial health officer also warned people about the dangers of large gatherings after more than 1,000 people protested against racism and police brutality Sunday at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Dr. Bonnie Henry repeated her warning that large crowds increase the chances of getting COVID-19 Monday.

She told people who went to Sunday’s demonstration — called in solidarity with protests that have spread across the U.S. in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis — to watch their health closely for the next two weeks, and to get tested if they have symptoms.

“Hate has no place in our province and we have said that many times through this pandemic,” she said.

“However, we must be careful in how we exercise our right to peaceful demonstration. I saw many people wearing masks and keeping their safe distances yesterday. And for that, I thank you. And I encourage anyone who may be demonstrating to also, please, continue to keep that safe distance, to recognize the importance of making sure that we are not allowing this virus a chance to spread.”

RELATED: Thousands gather peacefully at Vancouver rally in support of George Floyd protests

Henry said the virus can spread, even outside, through chanting, yelling, or talking closely.

“So those are risky behaviours, right now. And, yes, there is a possibility we could see spread from people,” she explained.

“Of course, it’s all a balancing of risks and we know that there is still transmission in our community. So it’s very important that people monitor themselves, and that when we look at these types of demonstrations, we consider both our risk in who we are, who we are around, who’s in our family, who’s in a bubble, the things that we do.”

Right to peacefully demonstrate 

Health Minister Adrian Dix emphasized the right to peaceful protest, but said it may require a different approach during the pandemic.

“That means we have to find new ways, different ways to protest in our society. To express opposition in our society, to express points of view in our society, and to bring change in our society.”

While he notes the peaceful nature of Vancouver’s demonstration, he a;so said, “Physical distancing saves lives.”

A public health order still limits gatherings to 50 people.

Watch: “It must be peaceful” organizer of anti-racism rally is proud of Vancouver

A peaceful rally was what Jacob Callender-Prasad wanted for Sunday, adamant demonstrators condemn racism and police brutality without violence.

“I wanted to make sure our city doesn’t get destroyed,” says the 21-year-old rally organizer. “The United States, they have to deal with these problems every single day in their communities”

RELATED: ‘We must keep this peaceful at all costs’: Rally against racism, police brutality organized in Vancouver

“There’s reason for them to be rioting there. I don’t condone it. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it. But here in Canada, we don’t need to riot,” Callender-Prasad says. “We can do this in a better way, in a peaceful way just to get the message across.”

The Vancouver Police Department attended the demonstrations and praised everyone involved for keeping things safe and respectful. Police also say no major incidents happened during Sunday’s rally.

“They wanted to get their message out in a well-behaved, peaceful manner, and this is what they did,” said Sgt. Aaron Roed.

Meanwhile, Premier John Horgan also condemned the racially-motivated attacks in B.C. and in the United States.

“Racism is not new in our province. But that does not make discrimination acceptable, be it against Black, Asian, Indigenous Peoples, or anyone of colour,” he writes in a statement. “We must all stand against these despicable acts and call them out when we see them. We cannot be complacent, thinking what happens elsewhere does not happen here.”