Politics

Immigration minister says he was target of racial profiling, calls on Liberals to fight racism

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says he has first-hand experience with racism in Canada, and urged his fellow Liberals to be agents for change to combat it.

Ahmed Hussen says he was stopped by police, followed in stores because he is black

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen addresses a session on diversity and inclusion in Canada at the federal Liberal national convention in Halifax on Friday, April 20, 2018. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said Friday he has experienced racial profiling first-hand in Canada, and he's calling on his fellow Liberals to fight racism.

Speaking to delegates at the party's convention in Halifax, Hussen said that, when he was younger, police cars would screech to a halt in front of him when he was out for an evening stroll, stopping to question him just because he's black.

"This experience wasn't unique to me, but an officer would come to me and say, 'Where are you going, what's in your pockets, where have you been,'" said Hussen, who came to Canada as a refugee from Somalia. "Much later, having to be bothered at a grocery store, being followed around just because of the colour of my skin."

While he called the incidents "debilitating," Hussen said he learned to deal with them. And while he doesn't think racism is as prevalent here as it is in some other countries, Hussen said Canada must do more to confront it.

"The fact of the matter is when you look at those experiences, you realize we have a long way to go for inclusion, and these conversations must be had and continue to be had, because this is a reality for so many of us," he said.

Hussen said the Trudeau government has invested in combating racism and supporting marginalized and racialized people, but he urged fellow Liberals to take a personal stake in confronting bias. He called on convention delegates to "fight fear with facts."

Confront discrimination, exclusion

"When you are in a room, ask yourself who's not being included in that room. When you're at the table, think about how you can expand that table," he said.

"And if that involves having difficult conversations, then so be it."

As many countries struggle with an anti-immigrant backlash, Hussen said it's critical to avoid feeding racial and cultural anxieties through "fearmongering."

"It's already here, but luckily for us here in Canada, it's not the prevalent view. Even that view, we need to engage and acknowledge that it exists. We don't need to label people," he told CBC News after his speech.

He said Canada can keep anti-immigration sentiment at bay through efficient resettlement services, and by explaining to Canadians why the country needs newcomers to fund public services and fill labour gaps.

"We need to showcase why Canada needs immigration, because the data doesn't lie," he said.

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