OTTAWA — Calls to turn anger into action rang out in the House of Commons on Tuesday as politicians embraced pleas to stamp out discrimination in Canada — though outside the House, they disagreed on how deeply the problem is seated.
One by one, party leaders acknowledged the racism tearing apart the United States is also present in the daily lives of many Canadians and must be addressed with deeds as well as words.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said people are fed up with empty rhetoric.
“How many more people need to die before there is action? How many more speeches will be made? How many more protests need to happen before something is done?” Singh asked in the House.
“Government after government prefer lip service to concrete action. When it’s time to take action, they don’t have the courage to do so or the desire to do so.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the last thing many people wanted to hear was another speech on racism from a white politician.
“I’m here because I want you to know that our government is listening. We hear your calls for justice, equality and accountability. We acknowledge your frustration, your anger, your heartbreak.”
The comments followed days of demonstrations and violence in many U.S. cities after a video showed Minneapolis police killing a black man, George Floyd, fanning the flames of fury over racism in the States.
A police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while he pleaded that he couldn’t breathe.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford played down the notion Canada is struggling with the sort of racism found in the States.
“They have their issues in the U.S. and they have to fix their issues, but it’s like night and day comparing Canada and the U.S.”
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said the first step should “be to show our solidarity and friendship.”
And he said Canada could also quickly process applications from black people and other minorities from abroad seeking asylum.
“We have the power and the duty to do so. Let’s do it right away. Thus, we’ll be able to put our words into action, and this will make us more credible.”
Blanchet said historical racism has left “traces of odious things in our institutions that colour our relations with people of different origins or people who were here long before us,” though he resists the idea that federal, provincial or municipal governments are racist, or that we are all drawn into systemic discrimination today.
He compared that discussion to doing politics at a funeral, however, and said this is a time for expressing solidarity.
In his own news conference, Trudeau was asked about the protests in the U.S. and President Donald Trump’s talk of deploying the military to stop unrest.
He paused a full 20 seconds, lips pursed, jaw working, before saying that despite watching the United States with “horror and consternation,” Canadians must be aware of the challenges facing black Canadians and other minorities and take steps to address them.
“It is a time to listen, it is a time to learn what injustices continue despite progress over years and decades,” Trudeau said.
“But it is a time for us as Canadians to recognize that we too have our challenges, that black Canadians and racialized Canadians face discrimination as a lived reality every single day.”
In the House, Singh called on Trudeau to end racial profiling as well as the over-policing and excessive jailing of black people in Canada.
“The prime minister of this country has the power to go beyond pretty words and pretty speeches and do something.”
Trudeau said his government had provided millions of dollars for programs aimed at young black Canadians, invested in mental-health services for those who have experienced racism or intergenerational trauma, and created an anti-racism secretariat to eliminate obstacles to employment, justice and social participation.
“We have made some progress, but we know that this work is far from over,” the prime minister said.
Denouncing racist acts is one thing, said Green Leader Elizabeth May. “But can we get to the root of it?”
She urged an inquiry to weed out white-power groups in Canada and make sure they are not infiltrating police forces. “Because if there is one thing scarier than a white supremacist with a gun, it’s a white supremacist with a gun in uniform.”
The George Floyd tragedy has sparked marches, sit-ins, protests and, sadly in some cases, riots, noted Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.
“But I hope more importantly it has sparked conversations,” he said in the Commons.
“Racism is real, it is painful and it is wrong. No one should ever feel unsafe because of the colour of their skin, especially around police officers, who have a duty and responsibility to uphold the law for all.
“In order to ensure that we as a people remain free, we must continue to fight efforts to infringe upon our freedoms, including racism and all forms of brutality and injustice in Canada and around the world.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2020.
—With a file from Allison Jones in Toronto
—Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter
Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press