Politics

Blanchet demands Singh apologize for calling one of his MPs a racist

BQ Leader Yves-François Blanchet is demanding NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh apologize for calling a Bloc MP racist for refusing to back a motion on systemic racism in the RCMP. But Singh says his reaction was not about one MP - and he won't apologize for "wanting to make things better for people."

NDP leader was booted from House for using 'unparliamentary' language

From left: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Bloc Québécois MP Alain Therrien and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet. (Justin Tang/CBC, Radio-Canada, Adrian Wyld/Radio-Canada)

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet is demanding an apology from NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh for calling one of his MPs a racist.

During a news conference on Parliament Hill today, Blanchet said House Speaker Anthony Rota must be "severe" if an apology to Alain Therrien isn't forthcoming.

Singh was expelled from the House for the remainder of the day Wednesday after calling Therrien a racist for refusing to support an NDP motion dealing with systemic racism in the RCMP and making what he described as a dismissive gesture.

Blanchet said the one-day suspension is not enough.

"I hope his apology will be as fervent as his insult was," Blanchet said.

Singh's office said the NDP leader does not intend to apologize.

"No, he has nothing to apologize for," said a spokesperson.

Later today, Singh told CBC News Network's Power & Politics that he won't apologize for taking a stand.

"People have said that I've stood up to systemic racism and by not apologizing I've said that I'm not going to apologize for wanting to make things better for people," he told host Vassy Kapelos. "If I was to apologize I would be betraying all these people who now feel like they matter because someone said, 'You know what? This is a problem and I'm not going to back down ...'

"It's a way of saying people matter and I can't take that away from people."

Watch: "I'm not going to apologize for wanting to make things better for people," says Singh:

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he won’t apologize for calling a Bloc MP racist because it’s not just about him. “If I was to apologize I would be betraying all these people who now feel like they matter because someone said you know what this is a problem.” 11:38

'Now we need to see the action': Singh

Singh also said that he is not looking for an apology from Therrien because systemic racism in the RCMP — the issue his motion was meant to highlight — is not about the actions of any one MP.

"If I can make it about anything, it's about the prime minister," he said. "And I have to say I was really touched, he said some really nice words in the press conference. It was very kind, but ... now we need to see the action and it's pains me to say this because I've been very critical of President Trump ...  but President Trump has moved faster to bring in some changes — albeit not good enough.

"The system that we're trying to change is a system that was built by the current Liberal government and past Liberal and Conservative governments ... If you're not changing the system, you're perpetuating it."

Therrien 'not a racist': Blanchet

Blanchet said that if Rota does not take action, all MPs would feel "entitled" to trade insults on the floor of the House of Commons. He also said he was "stupefied" by his accusation against Therrien.

"He's not a racist. He loves everyone," he said.

Blanchet said 95 per cent of his Twitter feed is now English comments — most of them levelling accusations of racism against his party.

Watch: Blanchet on Singh's claim that BQ MP is a racist

Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet defends Bloc MP Alain Therrien for not supporting an NDP motion dealing with systemic racism in the RCMP. Blanchet is demanding a "sincere apology" from NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh for calling Therrien a racist. Singh was kicked out of the House of Commons on Wednesday after refusing to apologize. 7:47

"Mr. Therrien did nothing. So I must say I know a bit of what the leader of the NDP said about his own childhood. And I really feel sincere compassion about that. Nobody should go through those treatments. Nobody. And I entirely understand that it might leave some traces," Blanchet said.

"We must not admit what he has said because of that. But we must feel compassion for what he has gone through when he was a child. And I sincerely believe that Mr. Singh is a good person. I always thought that. And I still think that he somehow dropped the ball and I hope he will take it back."

The issue erupted again in the House of Commons today when the Bloc attempted to sanction Singh.

Rising on a point of order, BQ MP Claude DeBellefeuille asked Speaker Rota to not acknowledge the NDP leader because he had not apologized.

Rota noted that Singh's comments were made during a House sitting Wednesday, while today's sitting is a special committee on the government's response to COVID-19. He said he would take time to review her request.

"I do have the intention to reflect upon it and to provide an answer," he said.

Watch: Trudeau on Singh's accusation against BQ MP

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it's disappointing that the BQ "refuses to accept" that systemic discrimination exists in Canada. He said its not for him "to criticize any Canadian, particularly not the only racialized leader in the House of Commons" for having made "people uncomfortable by calling them out for not recognizing systemic discrimination." 3:22

DeBellefeuille called it a "rather serious issue."

"If we allow a member or a party leader to insult another member, what will happen to all of us here? You'll have the right to insult your colleagues and you're only expelled for one day? This can't be the case," she said.

According to parliamentary rules, when a Speaker finds an MP's words particularly offensive or disorderly, the Speaker can ask the MP to rise in the Commons and "withdraw the unparliamentary word or phrase unequivocally."

If the MP apologizes, the apology is accepted in good faith and the matter is considered closed.

"However, if the member refuses to obey the directive of the Speaker to retract his or her words, the chair may refuse to recognize the member until the words have been withdrawn, or may name the member for disregarding the authority of the chair and order the member to withdraw from the chamber for the remainder of the sitting," says the rulebook.

PM won't criticize Singh

Asked to weigh in during his daily news conference today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it's disappointing that the BQ "refuses to accept" that systemic discrimination exists in Canada.

"In regards to what Mr. Singh said, it is not for me to criticize any Canadian, particularly not the only racialized leader in the House of Commons, for making people uncomfortable by calling them out for not recognizing systemic discrimination," he said.

Watch: Freeland says she didn't see exchange between Singh and Therrien:

Despite being in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Freeland says she didn't see the exchange between NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Bloc Québécois MP Alain Therrien that ended with Singh calling the Bloc MP "racist." 1:59

"I think we need to recognize that these conversations are going to make people uncomfortable. But it has been the lived reality of racialized and Indigenous Canadians for far too long, and we need to continue to move forward in a way that attempts to bring people together. But yes, we are going to make some people uneasy with recognizing things have to change."

Blanchet acknowledged today that systemic racism does exist in some Canadian institutions and said "it must be extracted."

"It must be found and removed from our rules and institutions and behaviours. I believe that this exists. I respect entirely somebody that does not believe that. And it does not make a racist of such a person," he said.

"I do believe it does exist and it must be addressed as an issue peacefully, calmly, respectfully, in order to improve what communities might be submitted to. Everybody is equal."

With files from the CBC's Peter Zimonjic

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