Tensions flared after the formal rally had concluded and some demonstrators made their way back to the starting point, in the shadow of Montreal police headquarters downtown.
Windows were smashed, fires were set and the situation slid into a game of cat-and-mouse between pockets of protesters and police trying to disperse them.
watch the video:
A Montreal anti-racism protest demanding justice for a Black Minnesota man who died following a police intervention last week degenerated into clashes between police and some demonstrators on Sunday night.
The march had snaked its way through downtown Montreal on Sunday afternoon without incident, but Montreal police declared the gathering illegal about three hours after it began when they say projectiles were thrown at officers who responded with pepper spray and tear gas.
Demonstrators had gathered to denounce racist violence and police impunity — both in the U.S. and at home in Montreal.
George Floyd died in Minneapolis on Monday after pleading for air while a white police officer pressed a knee on his neck.
His death has sparked nightly protests in major U.S. cities.
The Montreal rally was a solidarity gathering with American anti-racism activists, but organizers say it is also an opportunity to express their own anger at the treatment of racialized people in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.
The gathering drew Montrealers of all stripes and backgrounds, holding posters with slogans. Protesters chanted “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe”– what Floyd was caught on video saying.
They took a knee in unison several times in solidarity with the movement.
But when Montreal police called on protesters to disperse, some refused.
Leah Blain, 20, chose to continue demonstrating and was part of a group trying to reach police headquarters when she was met with pepper spray.
“We were just standing here, we were showing our support and this is what happens, the police support a system that’s against us, so if you support them, you’re against us,” she said.
On Sunday evening, Steve Haboucha was clearing broken glass from the frame around the front window of his Koodo Mobile store on Montreal’s Ste Catherine Street. Security video from his store, he said, shows a stream of people entering the cell phone shop and leaving with accessories over a 30-minute period.
Some of the names invoked included names of black men killed during Montreal police interventions in recent years.
A few kilometres west on the same downtown street, the loud pops of cracking glass echoed through the neighbourhood, preceding a group of people who turned their destruction onto seemingly random targets.
On one corner, a group used a metal construction sign and its steel stand to smash the front glass of a payday loan branch.
All along Ste Catherine, people smashed windows and looted stores, while trying to evade police.
Before chaos erupted, Vincent Mousseau, a social worker and community organizer, called out Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante, who earlier Sunday had condemned “violence, racism and systemic discrimination” in a series of tweets.