“It’s a Symbol”: Why Many Canadians Walk Hundreds of Kilometers in Protest – National

Putting one foot in front of the other, sometimes slowly and sometimes at faster strides, Bilal Malik says he desperately hopes the government will listen to what it has to say.

The 36-year-old is nearing the end of an approximately 15-day, 380-kilometer “Freedom March” between Toronto and the steps of Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

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He wants to persuade Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to declare systemic abuses and human rights violations against ethnic Muslim Uyghurs in China to be genocide.

Malik is one of many Canadians who currently walk hundreds of kilometers uphill and downhill, through towns, villages and farms to send a message.

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“I hope the walk will have even a little, even a percent of a difference… They have to do something,” said Malik, who has not been able to reach his family for three years since leaving the province. from northwest China to Canada. from Xinjiang.

China has come under international criticism and sanctions since reports of mass detention of more than one million people and forced sterilization.

In February, parliament voted to declare China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority genocide. The motion was supported by all opposition parties, but Trudeau and most of his cabinet abstained.

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China won’t admit human rights abuses with Uyghurs, says Trudeau

China unwilling to admit human rights violations with Uyghurs, says Trudeau – June 22, 2021

Malik says his walk is all he can do to honor his family, educate Canadians and persuade Trudeau “to do the right thing.”

Peaceful dissent by marching has been around for decades, said Ronald Stagg, professor of history at Ryerson University in Toronto.

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“It’s someone who says, ‘I have to do my part. I feel like I have to say something. I feel like I have to protest this or in favor of it, so I’m going to do it, ”Stagg said. “Even if it doesn’t matter. “

Malik said the conversations he had with Canadians along the way made every second of his walk worth it.

“It’s not a big sacrifice. It is a symbol. We need to do something for our community.

Residential schools

Stagg said that sometimes the walks people take focus on a specific problem. At other times, they highlight the general grievances of marginalized groups that have been subjected to oppression throughout their history.

Lorraine Netro and Jacqueline Shorty Whitehorse also walk. Their 2,000 kilometer trek from Whitehorse, Yukon to Kamloops, British Columbia must honor what are believed to be the remains of hundreds of Indigenous children at the sites of former residential schools.

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A residential school survivor in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan is more than halfway through her trip to Parliament Hill. In June, Patricia Ballantyne started her “Walk of Sorrow”. She plans to reach Ottawa this month.

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Trechelle Bunn, 21, organized a day-long march for around 70 people earlier this month. They walked 23 kilometers from the former Birtle Indian Residential School to the Birdtail Sioux First Nation, approximately 300 kilometers northwest of Winnipeg, to relive the journey hundreds of Indigenous children are said to have made in fleeing the residential school.

“It was a really powerful time to return to where my grandparents were taken… and then also for me and the survivors to drop out of school,” she said.

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Kamloops BC Indian Residential School survivor speaks out

Kamloops BC Indian Residential School survivor speaks out

The Canadian Encyclopedia says that marching as a form of peaceful dissent became popular in the 20th century when Mahatma Gandhi advanced a doctrine of non-violent civil disobedience to challenge British rule. He walked for 24 days in the Indian countryside.

Decades later, Gandhi-inspired Martin Luther King Jr. led 250,000 marchers from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, risking arrest and violence, as they attempted to gain black suffrage. .

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In Canada, Stagg noted, hundreds of people regularly gathered, and sometimes marched, to protest the Vietnam War. Similar to the 1960s, the past two decades will be remembered for its marchers and protesters, he said.

“We are living in a time of great social upheaval and all kinds of things are starting to be known. “

For Bunn, the walk she organized was less about a challenge than a healing one.

“It was a very stimulating and healing journey for everyone who took part. Walking back and home to our community, something that so many of our survivors and so many children have been denied… it gives me chills to think about it.

– With files from The Associated Press

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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