Editor's note: An Ontario Superior Court Decision has awarded the Lavallee sisters damages in a defamation suit against the activist who started a social media campaign based on a screenshot taken from the video. The judge found that the activist could not show there was an attempt to mock the murder of George Floyd. The court did not see the video, but believed the testimony of the sisters and two friends who saw the video. The headline of this story has been updated to reflect this new information. You can read more about the court decision here.
The Canadian Border Service Agency has let an employee go after three young white people from Orleans, Ontario seemingly reenacted George Floyd’s death on social media.
A white woman who recently graduated from the University of Ottawa allegedly recorded the video, reported by Fresh Daily. In the video, the woman’s sister, the now former CBSA employee, lay pinned to the ground while a white man, reportedly her boyfriend, pressed his knee on her neck.
The woman who recorded the video told VICE the man isn't white and had his knee on her sister's back, not neck.
Several people on social media responded by calling for the reenactors’ employers to take action and hold them accountable.
“The CBSA became aware of a social media post and immediately investigated the situation,” said CBSA president John Ossowski in a statement. He said a person affiliated with the post was a “casual employee at the agency who worked in a non-front-line capacity” and “no longer works at the CBSA.”
On Monday, the University of Ottawa put out a statement from president Jacques Frémont in solidarity with its Black community and denounced anti-Black racism.
“I am horrified and outraged by hateful and racist statements, including some which may have been posted by some of our students,” said Frémont.
Police officer Derek Chauvin was videotaped in Minneapolis on May 25 while kneeling on the neck of 46-year-old Floyd. Floyd visibly lost consciousness and died. Chauvin is now in a maximum-security prison and facing third-degree murder and manslaughter charges.
The white people in Orleans allegedly tried to recreate Floyd’s final moments.
In a statement to VICE, Shania Lavallee, the woman who took the video, apologized.
“I posted a video of my family member play-fighting as they do regularly,” she said. “In no way were we making fun of or minimizing the tragic death of Mr. George Floyd.
“I understand how the image could have been misconstrued and for that I sincerely apologize,” she said.
According to Fresh Daily, the video included the caption “police brutality,” but Lavallee said there was no caption on the post.
The video depicting Floyd’s death is one of several like it circulating on social media.
It represents a “blatant disregard for Black life,” said University of Toronto sociologist Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, who specializes in race and racism in policing.
When white people reenact Black suffering, it trivializes Black life and can trigger people who have experienced violent, systemic racism first-hand, Owusu-Bempah said.
"There is ample evidence that shows racist jokes aren't just jokes,” Owusu-Bempah said. “They serve to reinforce the normalized racism present in our society.”
The gross trivialization of Floyd’s death should serve as a reminder that Canadian institutions as well as individual Canadians are just as racist as in the U.S., he said.
Owusu-Bempah equated the actions of the three young people in Orleans to Amy Cooper, the woman who experienced international backlash after she threatened to call the police on a Black man for telling her to put her dog on a leash in Central Park. She has since been fired from her job and had her dog taken away.
Such behaviours “anger me as much as the actions of the police,” he said. “It demonstrates just how pervasive such behaviour is.”
That’s why it’s up to friends, family, and employers to call out racism when they see it, he added.
“Without such holding to account, we will continue to see the deaths of Mr. Floyd and countless others at the hands of the police,” he said.
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Updated at 6:15 p.m. EDT on June 2, 2020 to reflect new comments from Lavallee.