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'Anti-black racism is real': PM Trudeau calls out Canadian racism after Floyd protests
OTTAWA -- Amid protests in Canada following the police-involved killing of George Floyd, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says "we can't pretend that racism doesn't exist" in Canada.
"Anti-black racism is real. Unconscious bias is real. Systemic discrimination is real. And they happen here, in Canada," Trudeau said, speaking from the front steps of Rideau Cottage on Monday.
His comments come on the heels of protests against anti-black racism that took place in cities across Canada over the weekend. Protests took place in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal in solidarity with those decrying anti-black racism in the United States, as well as to protest police-involved deaths here in Canada.
In Toronto, protesters have been demanding answers in the death of 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell from her apartment balcony in High Park while police were present.
Speaking Monday, Trudeau said he had a message for young black Canadians.
"I hear you when you say that you are anxious and angry. When you say that this brings back painful experiences of racism that you've faced. I want you to know that I am listening, and that your government will always stand with you," Trudeau said. "Together, we will keep taking meaningful action to fight racism and discrimination in every form. The status quo – where people face violence because of the colour of their skin – is unacceptable."
The prime minister wasn't the only leader to speak up. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was pressed on the issue during his Monday morning press conference,
"I believe that when you’re looking at a tragic incident where a man was killed while in police custody, with all the context around the discrimination that many black people feel in the United States, and indeed around the world, that all levels of government have much more to do to eliminate that kind of, that type of racism," Scheer said.
"Obviously I support the rights of people to protest, to peacefully express their views and to speak out against things that they believe to be unjust, and I’ll always support the rights of people to do that peacefully and in respect of law."
When pressed on what white Canadians can do to be better allies, Scheer said communities who feel marginalized must be supported, and "we have to call out racist acts."
"I think we have to teach the next generation of Canadians that words can hurt, words can lead to violence, and we all have to do better to make sure that we're not, that we’re not in any way adding to the feelings of insecurity that many people have. I believe every single Canadian, every single human being has the right to live their life without fear of the authorities just because of the colour of their skin or their ethnic background," Scheer said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also held a press conference on Parliament Hill on Monday, during which he said that images and video of Floyd's killing were "chilling."
"Right now people are hurting. When you see someone that looks like you being killed like that, it makes you feel like you have no worth and no value. It makes you angry, and I speak as an ally. Someone who has felt the painful words and physical violence of racism," Singh said.
The NDP leader emphasized that anti-black racism is not confined to the United States.
"Here in Canada, we face anti-black racism as well. People, black people, have died at the hands of the police," Singh said.
He also highlighted that in the Canadian context, Indigenous people are also victims of police violence.
"We know that anti-Indigenous racism and deaths of Indigenous people at the hands of police is something far too common, so we have our own issues here in Canada and we can’t shy away from the anti-black racism that exists and the frustration that people hear and feel," Singh said.
Meanwhile, as protests have popped up in major Canadian cities, there have also been incidents of looting and property damage. Trudeau condemned the actions.
"For those who took advantage of these peaceful protests to do significant damage to communities and stores, as we saw in Montreal, we have to condemn those actions strongly. They do not represent the peaceful protesters who are standing up for very real issues in Canada. We need to continue to make sure that peaceful protest is always able to happen in Canada," he said.
The prime minister was also pressed on his own history of anti-black racism. Three separate instances of him dressed in brownface or blackface emerged in September, 2019, prompting Trudeau to call his decision to wear the racist makeup "unacceptable."
When pressed during his Monday press conference on whether his past use of blackface complicates his moral leadership when it comes to racism, Trudeau said he "deeply" regrets his actions.
"I have spoken many times about how deeply I regret my actions that hurt many, many people. But at the same time, we need to focus on doing better every single day, regardless of what we did or hadn’t done in our past," Trudeau said.
"We need to work together through this, we need to keep standing up for each other, we need to be there to say every day we can do better, as a country, as a world, and I will be part of that."