Parliament security investigating allegations of racial profiling
Parliament Hill is seen in Ottawa on October 31, 2013. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Thursday, February 7, 2019 4:22PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 7, 2019 6:52PM EST
Parliamentary Protective Service and the Speaker are investigating allegations that a group of black Canadians who were on Parliament Hill to provide sensitivity training were racially profiled on parliament grounds.
"It felt like they brought us in on the boat to show up and then they wanted us to go back on the boats again until they were ready for us. That’s what it felt like. It was weird," said Shevy Price, a Halifax musician and woman of colour who was part of the group.
The group was on Parliament Hill on Feb. 4 as a part of an event called Black Voices on the Hill, which aimed to engage and sensitize members of Parliament on the issues facing black Canadians.
While waiting in the hallway before their next meeting, the group says parliament security told the group of 10-12 people to disperse. Some members of the group went outside, others to the cafeteria. A man then allegedly walked into the cafeteria, snapped a photo of the room, and passed it along to security as part of a complaint where he detailed his discomfort.
A security guard then approached members of the group who were not in the cafeteria and, according to Price, told them they had to wait outside between their meetings.
When they asked the security guard how he knew it was them in the photo – given that they were no longer in the cafeteria – the guard allegedly responded that he could tell it was them because there were several "dark skinned" people in the picture.
"He did a weird shrug first like it was a joke, but it’s not a joke. You don’t do that," Price said.
"We were all in the hall together and there was a six-year-old black kid sitting there that doesn't even know what colour he is yet."
Two sources confirmed to CTV News the allegations happened on Feb 4. February is Black History Month.
"I’m disappointed…that was lazy, that was careless, and we deserve better than that," said Kate MacDonald, who is also a member of the group.
"We offer our apologies to the participants for the situation that they experienced…The Parliamentary Protective Service has zero tolerance for any type of discrimination. We took immediate action upon learning of this incident and launched an internal investigation into the matter," said Joseph Law, chief of staff to the director of the Parliamentary Protective Service.
The visiting group brought their complaint to Liberal MPs Andy Fillmore and Greg Fergus. Fergus is the chair of the Parliamentary Black Caucus. The two MPs raised the issue in a question of privilege Wednesday evening.
"I regret to inform you that both the member for Halifax and I were made aware of an incident of racial profiling of this group of young Canadians," Fergus said. "This place belongs to all Canadians. Therefore, I ask you to investigate this matter immediately and to suggest measures to make this place the welcoming and open place it should be for all Canadians."
Fillmore echoed the concern, rising on the same question of privilege.
"There is grave concern in my community over this experience, so I too am respectfully requesting that you look into this matter and report back to this House on your findings, as well as any actions that may have been or may be taken to rectify this upsetting incident."
The Speaker responded that he takes the matter "very seriously."
"I will look into the matter and return to the House in due course," Speaker Geoff Regan said.
Fillmore said the incident was disturbing.
"As open and diverse as Canada is, there are still clearly people that are experiencing anti-black racism and unconscious bias here, and that is entirely unacceptable anywhere in the country, but I would say particularly in the parliamentary precinct of the nation’s capital."
Fillmore said he hopes the Speaker’s investigation ends in action.
"Whatever the Speaker recommends I will be fully supportive of and I hope that we make the most of this opportunity that this unfortunate incident has created," Fillmore said.
A source from the Speaker's office said his response will likely be released when the House returns from its break next week.
As for those affected by the alleged incident, they want to receive an apology from the prime minister himself.
“He should see this and really take this in to apologize, and not by letter, because a letter could just be written and just sent off,” Trayvon Clayton, who was also on the Hill that day, said. “I would like literally face-to-face talks, and get support from him.”
The group is holding press conferences across the country Friday to call attention to the issue.