Nova Scotia

Trudeau apologizes to black Nova Scotians for racial profiling incident

Two black Nova Scotians who reported being racially profiled on Parliament Hill during a visit earlier this month say the apology they received from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a private meeting Thursday was genuine.

'He said that he was sorry and he was deeply affected by what had happened'

Halifax resident Trayvone Clayton listens to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak at the Black Cultural Centre in Cherry Brook, N.S., on Thursday. Earlier, Trudeau apologized to Clayton and a few other black Nova Scotians in a private meeting for a racial profiling incident on Parliament Hill on Feb. 4 (Radio-Canada)

Two black Nova Scotians who reported being racially profiled on Parliament Hill during a visit earlier this month say the apology they received from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a private meeting Thursday was genuine.

"I totally respect his apology and also we shared some thoughts on ways to involve the youth, the upcoming generation," Trayvone Clayton told reporters at the Black Cultural Centre in Cherry Brook, N.S. 

"This is not just for myself. I didn't do this for myself — I did it for all of us."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to a crowd at the Black Cultural Centre in Cherry Brook, N.S., on Thursday. (Radio-Canada)

Clayton, a Halifax university student, was part of a coalition of black, human rights, labour and youth groups that visited Parliament Hill on Feb. 4 for a series of meetings with eight federal cabinet ministers.

The visitors later reported that a government employee complained to the Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS) about them, taking their picture and referring to them as "dark-skinned people."

A member of the PPS who responded to the complaint also used the term "dark-skinned" and told them to leave the parliamentary cafeteria even though they had valid passes allowing them to be there, the group said.

Clayton said he was very hurt by the incident given they were invited to Ottawa to discuss ways of stopping hatred and racism toward black people.

"Look at this history. This has been here for hundreds of years and so racism still shouldn't be a problem towards us, we should be accepted for who we are and what we do," he said.

Kate MacDonald, a Halifax education and outreach co-ordinator, says Trudeau's apology for a racial profiling incident that happened earlier this month on Parliament Hill was genuine. (Kate MacDonald/Facebook)

Kate MacDonald, a Halifax education and outreach co-ordinator, also welcomed the apology from Trudeau — the first sitting Canadian prime minister to visit the Black Cultural Centre.

"He said that he was sorry and he was deeply affected by what had happened and he recognizes that there is anti-black racism in Canada, that it is an issue that we're still trying to work through," said MacDonald, who described the mood inside the room during the private meeting as good.

MacDonald and Clayton said they look forward to discussions with the prime minister to talk about possible youth initiatives for black youth.

After the private apology and a tour of the cultural centre, Trudeau spoke to a large crowd of black community members and leaders, dignitaries and other invited guests.

The prime minister did not issue a public apology but acknowledged the wrong done.

As an MP and now prime minister, Trudeau said he gets to meet people from every corner of the country who come to the Parliament Buildings, which he described as impressive and intimidating stone buildings with "paintings of white guys on the walls."

"One of the first things I say to people is, 'This is your House. This is your House of Parliament. This is your building. This is where we serve you. This is your place,'" Trudeau said.

"And to have these young [people] walk into their place for the first time, wanting to be part of ... conversations about their identity and what matters, and to have them smacked in the face with a stark reminder that anti-black racism exists, that unconscious bias exists, that systemic discrimination exists in this country today still, is not something we would want to be talking about this Black History Month."

Trudeau acknowledged there is still much work to be done to combat racism in Canada.

"If it hadn't happened in Parliament, doesn't mean it wouldn't have happened anywhere else in this country on any given day, because it does," he said.

About the Author

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email sherri.borden.colley@cbc.ca