Politics

First ministers couldn't agree on condemning systemic racism in declaration: Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says a first ministers' declaration condemning racism didn't mention systemic discrimination because not all the premiers would agree. 

'First of all, I agree, there is systemic racism,' says Ontario Premier Doug Ford

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says not all of Canada's premiers could agree on using the term "systemic racism" in a joint statement condemning racism. (Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says a first ministers' declaration condemning racism didn't mention systemic discrimination because not all the premiers would agree. 

The statement released Thursday says firmly that all 14 first ministers oppose racism and will drive the governments they lead to fight it. 

"Recognizing that one of the strengths of Canada is its diversity, first ministers condemn all forms of racism, discrimination, intolerance, and bigotry," it says in part. "First ministers are determined to combat it — including anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, and anti-Asian racism and hate, as well as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Hate has no place in Canada and will not be tolerated."

But the statement doesn't talk about more subtle forms of discrimination, in which members of some groups are denied opportunities because of the way systems or programs are designed, without overt expressions of bigotry.

"There was not consensus on using the phrase 'systemic discrimination' or 'systemic racism,"' Trudeau said Friday. "I have been crystal clear that the federal government recognizes it in order to be able to better address it." 

Trudeau wouldn't say which premiers weren't on board. Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Friday that he was.

"First of all, I agree, there is systemic racism," he said in his own news conference. 

"I guess the biggest concern about the letter, with all the premiers, is a letter is one thing. We all acknowledge it, and I think we've all acknowledged it in our own provinces, and three to four weeks later we're putting this letter out," Ford said. 

"We want action, and I know the prime minister wants action, too, but all the premiers are saying, 'Enough of the talking. Let's start getting action."' 

Talk is cheap, he said, and it's time to do things about racism. 

Public officials such as RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and Quebec Premier Francois Legault have said publicly that they want to root out racism but have rejected the idea that there are discriminatory features inherent to their institutions. 

Lucki later reversed herself. 

Trudeau says he thinks the gap in the statement indicates how much work needs to be done to fight systemic racism.

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