NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh made an impassioned plea Tuesday to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to move beyond “pretty words” and use his position of power to fix racial profiling, over-policing and over-incarceration of Black and Indigenous communities in Canada.
Speaking in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Singh invoked the memories of 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet, whose family has raised concerns about police involvement in her death in Toronto in May, and 22-year-old Stewart Kevin Andrews, an Indigenous man killed by police in Winnipeg in April, to make a point about how Black and Indigenous people have suffered violence or death at the hands of Canadian police.
“You know what? People are done with pretty speeches,” said Singh, the MP for Burnaby South, and the first racialized leader in Canada to sit in the House. “I’m standing in a hall of power, the chamber of Commons, with a prime minister who has the power to not just say pretty words, but actually do something about this,” he added.
“The prime minister of this country has the power to go beyond pretty words and pretty speeches, and do something.”
Trudeau admits to 'serious mistakes in the past'
Black and Indigenous racial profiling and over-incarceration is a matter of fact in Canada. Black people were 20 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than white people in Toronto, according to a 2018 Ontario Human Rights Commission report, and the organization also said last year that police practices hurt Black and Indigenous communities.
Federal data also shows Black people were represented as federal offenders at a rate that's more than double that of those who identify as Black in the general population. The Department of Justice acknowledges that Indigenous people are wildly over-represented in the correctional system.
Singh’s remarks followed those by Trudeau, who had said that anti-Black racism is happening “everywhere in Canada, every single day” including against his own staff, cabinet ministers and colleagues, and pointed to “concrete steps” his government has taken to address the issue.
Trudeau also admitted he had made “serious mistakes in the past,” which, he said, “I deeply regret, and continue to learn from.” While he did not mention it by name, media reports revealed during the 2019 federal election campaign that the prime minister wore brownface and blackface on multiple occasions.
Jagmeet Singh invoked the memories of Regis Korchinski-Paquet and Stewart Kevin Andrews to make a point about how Black and Indigenous people have suffered violence or death at the hands of Canadian police.
“I know that for so many people listening right now, the last thing you want to hear is another speech on racism from a white politician,” said Trudeau. “I’m not here today to describe a reality I do not know, or speak to a pain I have not felt. I’m here because I want you to know that our government is listening.”
Video of Floyd killing was 'chilling' says Singh
But Singh argued that, while systemic racism, racial profiling, economic and social inequality and employment discrimination are all ever-present in Canada, the Trudeau government and the federal governments that preceded it “prefer lip service to concrete action.”
He said people the world over saw the killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis who died while a white police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes as he was handcuffed and lying face down in the street, unable to breathe. The killing was filmed by a 17-year-old at the scene in a video that went viral.
The Floyd video was “chilling,” Singh said. “The casual violence of anti-Black racism, the callous taking of another human being’s life — it hurt to the core,” he said. “There was pain, there was sadness and, rightly so, there is anger, there is frustration.”
But this isn’t just an American problem, he said.
Pointing to the words of Killer Mike and Cardi B, two rappers and songwriters who have made political statements in the U.S., Singh admitted he didn’t have all the answers.
He called on Trudeau to commit to ending racial profiling, the “over-policing of Black bodies” and the “over-incarceration of Black people” and Indigenous people, as well as ensuring there is better access to health and education resources, clean drinking water for everyone and action on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls calls for justice.
“The prime minister has the power to do all these things right now,” he said.
Trudeau had argued that, since coming to power, his government has taken steps to battle anti-Black racism, systemic discrimination and injustice. “We are working directly with communities and their leaders to bridge persistent gaps in Canada,” he said.
He gave as an example the government’s Budget 2018 commitment to invest $9 million over three years to address the barriers faced by Black Canadian youth to their full participation in society, including through promoting Black history, culture and identity.
Trudeau also pointed to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s partnerships with Black community organizations and researchers to address mental health and determinants for Black Canadians, and the government’s $4.6 million “anti-racism secretariat” that aims to break down employment and justice obstacles.
Carl Meyer / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National Observer