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In their own words: political leaders in Canada weigh in on Trump's response to U.S. protests

Canadian political leaders are weighing in on U.S. President Donald Trump's handling of the anti-racism protests sweeping across the United States in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of law enforcement.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson let loose on U.S. leadership

Protesters were cleared away by security forces before Trump crossed the street from the White House and held up a Bible at the historic St. John's Episcopal Church. Ottawa's mayor called the move "disgraceful." (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Canadian political leaders are weighing in on U.S. President Donald Trump's handling of anti-racism protests sweeping across the United States in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of law enforcement.

While most leaders were reluctant to single out Trump by name, both Nova Scotia's premier and Ottawa's mayor had plenty to say about behaviour that they described as "offensive" and "disgraceful."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Asked about U.S. President Donald Trump threatening the use of military force against protestors in the United States, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paused for 21 seconds before saying "we all watch in horror and consternation." He did not comment on Trump. 2:59

Trudeau's answer to a question about Trump's decision to have protesters moved with tear gas and riot police — so he could have his picture taken outside a church — has been talked about more for what he didn't say than for what he did say.

The prime minister took 21 seconds to think before delivering an answer that focused on the discrimination faced by people of colour in Canada.

When pressed further to respond to Trump's threat to call in the military into deal with protesters, the prime minister said his focus was on Canadians, not United States domestic politics.

"My job as a Canadian prime minister is to stand up for Canadians, to stand up for our interests, to stand up for our values," he said. "That is what have done from the very beginning, that is what I will continue to do."

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland

Asked why the government won't criticize U.S. President Donald Trump by name over his threats to use the army against protesters, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland avoided talking about the president and said she's worried about "Canadian complacency" regarding anti-black racism. 2:09

The deputy prime minister followed Trudeau's position closely, noting that Canada has its own problems with anti-black racism and unconscious bias.

"What I am concerned about, actually, is 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," she said.

"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."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford

Ontario Premier Doug Ford weighs in on the violent protests that have swept the United States after George Floyd died at the hands of law enforcement. 1:22

Ford also avoided directly criticizing how the United States' leadership has handled the protests, but he did say that he is glad to live in a country that doesn't suffer from the same racial divisions and systemic racism seen in the U.S.

"They have their issues in the U.S. and they have to fix their issues, but it's like night and day compared to Canada," Ford said. "I'm proud to be Canadian. I'm proud to be the premier of Ontario.

"Thank God that we're different than the United States. We don't have the systemic, deep roots they've had for years ... The difference between the U.S. and Canada, for the most part, for the most part — we get along."

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil 

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil weighs in on the quality of political leadership in the United States amid wide-spread violent protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. 0:23

McNeil offered a less diplomatic comment when speaking about Floyd's death and the Trump administration's response to the protests that followed.

"When you watch what's happened south of the border, where a black American was killed at the hands of law enforcement, you understand the outrage and hurt and anger that people are feeling," he said. 

"Quite frankly, the political response in the United States has been offensive ... to the world."

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson weighs in on the Trump administration's response to the anti-racism protests that have swept across the United States 0:42

Watson offered what may have been some of the sharpest criticism of the Trump administration coming from a Canadian politician — singling out the president by name and calling his behaviour throughout the crisis "disgraceful."

"I think it was disgraceful. Clearing out peaceful protesters so he could have a photo-op holding a Bible," said Watson. 

"Presidents and leaders of organizations should be calming the waters and instill a sense of hope, and not [creating] greater chaos. What we've seen in the United States is both sad and remarkable but unfortunately, with this president, somewhat predictable.

"He seems to like to take gas and throw it on the fire."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh spoke to reporters on Wednesday. 1:43

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh criticized Trudeau's silence. He said that when he was bullied as a child, bystanders stood by and watched and their "silence didn't stop the painful words."

"When people are being killed simply for expressing their dissent, for protesting because they are frustrated and angry, you have to actually speak up ... Canada cannot be a passive bystander," Singh said. 

"What President Trump is doing is reprehensible. What President Trump is doing is inflaming hatred, it is divisive, it is wrong."

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's silence was "carefully meditated" and "strategic," and he should show courage in directly calling out U.S. President Donald Trump's actions. 1:19

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said he believes most people would have an easier time seeing their values reflected in the prime minister's actions if Trudeau "did show some courage" by directly calling out Trump's actions.

"The responsible thing to do was not to calculate, in his mind, 20 seconds of carefully meditated silence, strategic silence, and instead say what he didn't have the courage to say," he said.  

"The president of the United States, once again, is throwing oil on a dangerous fire against people, most of them, in a peaceful fashion who express sadness, indignation, sorrow, anger, all of that being entirely legitimate."

Green Party parliamentary leader Elizabeth May

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May takes aim at U.S. President Donald Trump, reiterating that Canada must protect refugees coming through the border. She would not, however, be critical of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland for not denouncing Trump. 2:01

Elizabeth May, the Green Party's federal parliamentary leader, said recent police actions and the president's words have demonstrated that America is not a safe place for visible minorities — but she refused to criticize Trudeau or Freeland for not publicly denouncing Trump.

"I want to give the prime minister and deputy prime minister the space to navigate how they deal with the Trump White House," May said.

"But as an individual and as parliamentary leader for the Green Party, I can't stand by and watch what the president is doing without being one of the voices that I hope is heard from within our borders, and into the United States, to give comfort to those who are protesting."

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