Racism, and the recognition of its widespread existence in Canada, tears the federal political class apart. While the leader of the Bloc demands an apology from his NDP rival for calling one of his own racists, and the principal concerned refuses to comply, the Prime Minister believes that it is rather the Bloc Quebecois who must back down and in turn endorsing the concept of systemic racism.
Wednesday evening, Jagmeet Singh called the Bloc Québécois Alain Therrien “racist” in the House of Commons because the latter refused, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, his consent to allow the tabling of a motion recognizing the presence of systemic racism in the within the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and requesting a revision of its budgets accordingly. The President removed Mr. Singh from the House of Commons after he refused to apologize. But such expulsion only lasts for the day.
On Thursday, the leader of the Bloc Québécois, Yves-François Blanchet, therefore again invited Mr. Singh to retract and the Speaker of the House of Commons to be firmer. “I sincerely hope that the leader of the NDP will apologize. […] And I hope that such an apology is as widely disseminated as the accusations, “said Mr. Blanchet at a press conference. He added that “if the Speaker does not take tough action in the event that the leader of the NDP refuses to make a sincere apology, commensurate with the length of the charges laid on Wednesday, anyone in Parliament will say that it can say anything and have a 24-hour suspension. “
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau got involved, arguing that the problem was on the side of the Bloc Québécois, not Mr. Singh’s. “When the only racialized party leader in the House of Commons makes a statement like that, yes, it may cause unease, but it must be heard to move forward as a country,” said Mr. Trudeau. At no point did Mr. Trudeau say if he believed that refusing to recognize systemic racism was in itself racism.
“I am very disappointed that the Bloc Québécois continues not to recognize that systemic racism exists in Canada, everywhere in our institutions,” said only the Prime Minister. In English, he added to all Bloc members that he is “unhappy that they still resist recognizing the reality of millions of Aboriginal and racialized Canadians.” When the journalist asked him what he thought of the Premier of Quebec, François Legault, who also refuses to speak of systemic racism, Mr. Trudeau escaped.
These words risk biting Mr. Blanchet, who already said in the morning that he was “disgusted” that Quebecers as a whole were being “called racists anytime and for anything”.
Mr. Blanchet reported that his deputy Alain Therrien was taking the situation hard. “People who respected him rightly have doubts because they weren’t there. It’s very deplorable. In general, he deplores the fact that in Mr. Singh’s mind there are only two possible positions: either a person recognizes the existence of systemic racism, or that person is racist. “There is no clear and formal definition [de racisme systémique], each one going from its own definition. Maybe there are some who think it exists more than others and in any case, it’s legitimate. If we want to have a healthy debate, it will have to be done other than by exchanging insults and accusations. “
Singh “won’t apologize”
Singh’s team has emailed the chief “will not apologize.” Singh appeared in the House of Commons on Thursday and obtained the right to speak from President Anthony Rota. The Bloc Québécois tried to prevent it.
“The member for Burnaby South made unparliamentary comments yesterday,” said Bloc member Claude DeBellefeuille. He insulted the member for La Prairie, Alain Therrien, and the Bloc Québécois, treated him four times as a racist and I consider that he also challenged your authority when you asked him to apologize and that he has refused. You kicked him out of the House. I ask you again, Mr. President, not to recognize him today. “
The word “racist” was effectively recognized as an unparliamentary word in 1987. The Speaker can refuse to give the floor to an MP as long as he refuses to withdraw such remarks.
Speaker Anthony Rota explained that he was giving Mr. Singh the floor because his unparliamentary remarks were made on Wednesday during a regular sitting of the House (which took place to debate and vote on expenses) while proceedings were underway. Thursday were part of a COVID committee meeting, the formula chosen to sit in a lighter mode during the pandemic. “I will have an answer to Mrs. DeBellefeuille before the next session. For today, in committee, we will continue as normal, “said Mr. Rota. This next session should in theory take place on July 8, the day the government will present its economic update.
Singh took the opportunity to thank the Prime Minister for coming to his defense. He asked him if he was committed to reassessing the RCMP’s budgets to determine whether certain funds should rather be directed to mental health services. Trudeau replied that there was no need to put the two sectors in opposition.
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples on Thursday called for an Aboriginal-led commission on first nations and police relations. Congress suggests that the commission examine whether the RCMP is still necessary.