Pallister disputes reports he prevented 'systemic racism' from being used in statement with PM, premiers

Premier Brian Pallister is fighting back against reporting that he opposed the use of the term "systemic racism" in a declaration from the prime minister and other premiers condemning discrimination.

'It's hurtful and it's wrong' to be 'essentially accused of being racist,' premier says

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is strenuously objecting to a report that he opposed the use of the phrase "systemic racism" in a statement authored by the Prime Minister and all of Canada's premiers. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Premier Brian Pallister is fighting back against reporting that he opposed the use of the term "systemic racism" in a declaration from the prime minister and other premiers condemning discrimination.

French-language newspaper Le Devoir reported that sources familiar with the discussion among the first ministers said the Manitoba premier was hesitant to use the phrase in a joint statement released last Thursday. 

Pallister calls the reporting erroneous. 

"I don't normally speak about personal, confidential calls but I have to be clear now — this is false," Pallister said, unprompted, during a news conference on Tuesday.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed he didn't have a consensus among premiers to include the phrase, which acknowledges that racism is entrenched in institutional structures. 

On Tuesday, Pallister called out the Winnipeg Free Press for covering the matter. The newspaper asked Pallister's office about Le Devoir's reporting, but they wouldn't deny it, citing the confidential nature of the call.

Wrong to be accused of racism: Pallister

"Being essentially accused of being racist in an article in a paper that I used to have such respect for, it's hurtful," Pallister said. "It's hurtful and it's wrong."

After initially saying on Tuesday he wouldn't elaborate on what occurred on the call, Pallister said he didn't object.

"I didn't oppose it. I speak to items when I have a concern or if I'm promoting something," he said.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister wouldn't say if he supported the phrase "systemic racism," but said, "I support it by my deeds." (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Pallister says a dozen to 15 issues came up during the call, and he didn't weigh in on this subject.

"I don't speak to every point," he added. "If I had a concern, I would have raised it."

When asked to define what "systemic racism" means to him, Pallister wouldn't answer. Instead, he said "actions matter at least as much as adjectives."

He went on to say his government has repeatedly stood up for minorities. Pallister says his government has put more people of colour into leadership positions, returned treaty lands to their owners and spent hundreds of millions to help Indigenous peoples displaced from their homes by flooding.

"I think what people want is action and that's what our government's been pursuing in many, many different ways on many different fronts," he said.

He didn't say if he supported the phrase "systemic racism," but said, "I support it by my deeds."

NDP Leader Wab Kinew didn't hesitate when asked whether systemic racism exists in Manitoba. He argued the premier was missing the mark.

"I found it quite disappointing that Mr. Pallister declined to define systemic racism as he sees it, or to admit that there's a problem here in Manitoba," he said.

"Insofar as a leader refuses to say the words out loud or to expound on the ideas and define an issue like systemic racism, they are showing a lack of consideration for this moment that we're in."

There's a growing push, underscoring the movement against anti-Black racism and police brutality, for institutions and politicians to publicly acknowledge structures in place that prevent equality. 

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki recently came under fire after saying she struggled with different definitions for systemic racism. She later said she made a mistake for not stating that systemic racism exists in the police force she leads.

Quebec Premier François Legault has publicly denied that his province has a systemic problem with racism.

About the Author

Ian Froese


Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: