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Trudeau's long silence: PM pauses, avoids Trump's name in reaction to protests
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not speak for some 21 seconds when asked to comment on U.S. President Donald Trump's handling of protesters in the United States, ultimately avoiding even saying Trump’s name in his eventual response.
During a press conference on the front steps of Rideau Cottage on Tuesday, Trudeau was asked for his thoughts on Trump's call for military action against protesters across the U.S. As the U.S. president made that announcement on Monday, tear gas canisters could be heard exploding in the streets near the White House, clearing a path for him to take a photo-op outside of a church.
Rather than offer an immediate answer, the question was met with silence. After a few seconds, Trudeau opened his mouth slightly, but did not speak. His silence continued for more than 20 seconds.
Finally, Trudeau spoke.
"We all watch in horror and consternation what’s going on in the United States," he said.
"It is a time to pull people together, but it is a time to listen, it is a time to learn what injustices continue despite progress over years and decades. But it is a time for us as Canadians to recognize that we too have our challenges, that black Canadians and racialized Canadians face discrimination as a lived reality every single day."
- Read more: Don Martin: The 21 seconds of silence that said everything about Canada's reaction to Trump
He went on to speak about the systemic discrimination racialized Canadians face within Canada, but he did not directly speak about Trump’s position on protesters or even mention the president by name.
Trudeau wasn't the only one in government to be pushed for a comment on Trump's recent call for crackdowns on protesters. When Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was pressed on the issue during a press conference Tuesday, she too refused to directly mention Trump in her response.
"As a Canadian politician, as a Canadian leader, my focus is on Canada and it is on being very clear within our government and with Canadians that this is not a problem to which we are immune. It is a problem here in Canada, and it is our job today to listen to Canadians, to listen to black Canadians, and it’s time for us to act," she said.
When asked whether she and Trudeau were avoiding direct criticism of Trump for fear of blowback from the United States, Freeland said her real concern lies with "Canadian complacency."
"I think that it's really, really important for us to set our own house in order and for us to really be aware of the pain that anti-black racism causes here in our own country, of the reality that we do have systemic discrimination here in Canada, and I think that we as Canadians, all of us, need to take this very traumatic moment for many people in the world as an opportunity to look at what we are doing in Canada and to work hard to do better," Freeland replied.
As protests spurred by the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, demonstrations have been taking place in Canadian cities including Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal, in solidarity with those decrying anti-black racism in the United States, as well as to protest police-involved deaths in Canada. In Toronto, protesters have also been demanding answers in the death of 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell from her apartment balcony 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."
Other leaders also spoke about the issue Tuesday in the House of Commons, touching on the situation in the United States but stopping short of mentioning Trump’s actions.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the video of Floyd’s killing was "heartbreaking" and "painful to watch."
"No one should ever have to plead for help while a crime is being committed, ignored by other members of law enforcement," Scheer said.
He added that anti-black racism is not just an American problem.
"While there are many things that we can point to in our history with pride, that is not to say that we have a perfect record, nor are immune to the threat of racism or that anti-black racism is just an American problem. Canada has had its own dark episodes of racism that cannot be ignored, and sadly not just in our past," he said.
While NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also did not critique Trump directly during his Tuesday speech in the House of Commons, he spoke up about the issue later that same day. Speaking on CTV's Power Play on Tuesday, Singh said that "there's time in history where there are certain comments that need to be called out."
"The fact that the … President of the United States, Donald Trump, has said inflammatory, divisive and effectively racist comments has to be called out," Singh said.
"For President Trump to say the comments he said, effectively calling on open war on American citizens, is reprehensible."
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May also addressed Trump's actions directly. During her speech in the House of Commons on Tuesday, May said that "when you see a bully, when you hear hate speech, we have to speak up."
"We have to speak out, and we have to say that the President of the United States is fomenting hatred and violence, and it’s shameful and shocking that he would grab a Bible, they cleared peaceful protesters on a Washington street with tear gas so that Donald Trump could pose with a Bible in front of an Episcopal church," May said, referring to Trump's photo-op near the White House on Monday.