Police can't be complacent, must act with understanding that systemic racism is real: Freeland
OTTAWA -- Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says that Canada's police need to act with an understanding that systemic racism exists — and that they can't be complacent on the issue.
She made the comments after the RCMP's commanding officer in Alberta denied the existence of systemic racism in policing during a press conference in Edmonton on Monday.
Conversations about how to address racism in Canada have been widespread as protests against police brutality and systemic racism in policing continue in Canada and around the world.
"It is very important for all federal government institutions, including the police, to operate from an understanding that systemic racism is a problem for us here in Canada, to not be complacent about that, and we have to work together against it," Freeland said during her Wednesday press conference.
She explained that the government has a firm position when it comes to systemic racism, which is racism that is rooted deeply in society's system-wide operations.
"The position of our government, when it comes to systemic racism in Canada, is clear and unambiguous. As the prime minister has said, we absolutely acknowledge that systemic racism exists in Canada, that anti-Black racism exists in Canada, and that unconscious bias exists in Canada," Freeland said.
That’s not the view that Alberta RCMP Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki shared during his press conference in Edmonton on Monday, when he said, "I don't believe that racism is systemic through Canadian policing."
During an interview with host Evan Solomon on Wednesday's episode of CTV's Power Play, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said Zablocki's comment was "totally wrong."
"It's totally wrong when he says there's no racism, whether it be systemic or overt racism. It's there, it's alive and it's real. And it's sad that a person in his position of authority would say that there is no racism, when it's clear that there is," Bellegarde said.
"Too many of our people are getting hurt, and are dying, at the hands of people that are supposed to protect us and service our people, in a good way. They’re sworn to serve and protect all people in Canada, including First Nations people."
Others have expressed similar views to that of Zablocki's. Ontario Premier Doug Ford, in a since-retracted statement, said that Canada doesn’t suffer from the same "systemic, deep roots" of racism as the United States. He later said his comments were misunderstood and acknowledged that systemic racism does indeed exist in Canada.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault has also come under fire for denying the existence of systemic racism in Quebec — a position he hasn't walked back.
Sandy Hudson, the founder of Black Lives Matter — Toronto, said on CTV's Question Period on Sunday that the position is "an embarrassment."
"I think that it's particularly embarrassing for Canada to be stuck in this weird question of whether or not anti-Black racism is exists. I think the data tells us, and experiences that people have spoken about in the public for so long, that very clearly anti-Black racism exists in this society," she said.
"So when you see something, a statistic, like Black people in Toronto are 20 times more likely to die at the hands of the police, that is what we mean by systemic. I'm not talking about anybody’s individual attitudes, I can't change those things and I don't intend to focus there," Hudson said.