Politics

Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq says departure from Parliament not the end of her story

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq says she keeps her parliamentary badge close every time she enters the House of Commons — just in case she has to prove who she is. 

Parliamentary Protective Service responds to criticism of racial profiling

NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq delivers a farewell speech in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq says she keeps her parliamentary badge close every time she enters the House of Commons — just in case she has to prove who she is. 

The departing NDP MP says she's been regularly stopped and questioned by the Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS) since she was elected in 2019.

"I've had security jog after me down hallways, nearly put their hands on me and racial profile me," Qaqqaq said in the House on Tuesday.

It was "intimidating," she told CBC News. 

"Why don't you have your security in the federal institution trained properly so they don't do these things, so I don't feel intimidated when I go into work?"

In her farewell address Tuesday, Qaqqaq said entering the doors of power put her in survival mode. To make it through her term, she said she had to give herself pep talks in the elevator and take moments in the bathroom to compose herself. 

In light of Qaqqaq's remarks, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is calling for change at the highest levels.

"We need to be very vigilant and continue to apply pressure on the House of Commons and Parliament to become a more welcoming space," Singh said during a Wednesday news conference.

"For so long, parliamentarians have been older white men. That's what the vision or that's what the assumption is and so someone, like Mumilaaq, really shatters that notion."

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller also expressed concern.

"For someone to feel unsafe, in what should be one of the most secure places in the country, because of who she is and what her identity is, is entirely unacceptable and, in fact, is an attack on her parliamentary privilege," Miller said.

The PPS reached out on Wednesday to address her concerns.

In a statement sent to CBC News, the service said it's committed to deliver on its security mission while ensuring members of the parliamentary community can "enjoy a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment."

NDP MP Jagmeet Singh is calling for institutional change after Qaqqaq said she felt unsafe working in the House of Commons. (Travis Burke/CBC)

Not swearing off politics

Qaqqaq, who is Nunavut's youngest ever MP, says her decision not to run in the next federal election is personal.

She said she decided to enter the 2019 race shortly before the campaign, after she received a note from a group of youths that said "the government needs you." 

"I wanted to become a Member of Parliament because it was, at the time, the best opportunity in my mind to help as many people as I could," Qaqqaq said in an interview.

"It took a long time for me to realize how hard and how much I was working and trying to push against a system so much, so intensely that ultimately — in every way shape or form — it was still to work against the people I represent and to work against me."

Qaqqaq says she's disappointed with the lack of progress on the housing and suicide crises facing Inuit. 

Liberal MP Yvonne Jones, left, defended her Inuk identity after Qaqqaq called it into question. (CBC)

Still, Qaqqaq says she will continue supporting the NDP and is not ruling out running for office again at some point in the future. 

"I've had the privilege of being part of a party and being part of a team where I have never felt the need to mask how I feel," Qaqqaq said.

Qaqqaq didn't hide why she took two leaves from office, either. 

The first was to deal with depression and burnout after a sobering housing tour of Nunavut last fall. She was off for eight weeks.   

WATCH | Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq delivers scathing farewell address:

‘I don’t belong here’: Nunavut MP gives scathing farewell speech

The National

1 month ago
2:00
Nunavut NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq gave a scathing farewell speech to the House of Commons saying she was racially profiled and 'reminded every step of the way I don't belong here.' 2:00

Qaqqaq says she stepped back in April, also for mental health reasons, after she questioned the Indigeneity of Liberal MP Yvonne Jones, who claims to be an Inuk.

"That conversation turned into a direction that I didn't intend for it to," Qaqqaq said. "It totally turned into Jones versus Qaqqaq … I didn't approach it the right way."

Looking back, Qaqqaq said she should have taken aim at the organization, NunatuKavut, Jones belongs to.

The non-status group was formed in 1981, as the Labrador Métis Nation, and changed its name in 2010, saying it better reflected its members' heritage.

Inuit and Métis are two distinct Indigenous groups.

The Innu Nation and Nunatsiavut, the recognized Inuit region in northern Labrador, have long contested NunatuKavut's claims that there is a southern Inuit region in Labrador, even in court filings. 

Jones said at the time she didn't have to "prove my identity to [Qaqqaq] or anyone else."

Qaqqaq isn't sure what comes next. For now, she's enjoying the little things, such as beading. She also just sanded and restained her deck. 

At age 27, Qaqqaq said she still has regular, young adult things to do. But she's mulling big plans for the future, such as possibly applying to law school. 

Ultimately, she wants to find something she enjoys and will likely work with youth, who she hopes she will continue to inspire. 

"I've shown youth and Indigenous people that we can be in places, even if we don't feel like they're made for us," Qaqqaq said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter at @CBCOlivia. Story tips welcome: olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.

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