As It Happens·Q&A

White supremacy is a 'harsh reality' in Canada, says public safety minister 

Canada’s public safety minister says the racism and white supremacy behind the mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., are alive and well in Canada.

Marco Mendicino links Buffalo shooting rhetoric to mosque shooting, London car attack and Ottawa occupation

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says the white supremacy and racism behind the Buffalo, N.Y., shooting are also responsible for several deadly attacks against marginalized people in Canada. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Story Transcript

Canada's public safety minister says the racism and white supremacy behind the mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., are alive and well in Canada. 

Ten people were killed and three wounded on Saturday, when a white 18-year-old wearing military gear opened fire at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighbourhood of Buffalo.

Police described the attack as "racially motivated violent extremism" and say they are investigating a hate-filled online manifesto linked to gunman, which espouses the "great replacement" theory, a racist conspiracy that white people are being replaced by minorities.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says that kind of rhetoric has also led to deadly violence in Canada. Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens guest host Robyn Bresnahan. 

Minister Mendicino, what do you mean when you say that Canada is not immune to the kind of thing that we saw in Buffalo on Saturday?

I mean that the kind of hatred and anti-Black racism that informed the senseless and brutal murder of innocent African Americans last week is a challenge that we face here in our own country.

We've seen it in communities like Quebec City, where five years ago we saw a number of Muslims gunned down while they were praying at a mosque.

We've also seen it in London, [Ont.,] where we're approaching the one-year anniversary of a Muslim family that was run over, tragically and shockingly.

I had the opportunity to meet with both of those communities. And speaking with their leaders, I know that there is still much pain, much anguish and much trauma as a result of those awful acts which were informed by hatred and racism.

We in Canada have a long way to go to confront that reality, but we will do it together.

Watch: Marco Mendicino reacts to news of the Buffalo shooting:

Public safety minister reacts to Buffalo shooting

2 months ago
Duration 1:00
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino discusses the mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y. that killed ten people.

You have promised to do more to address gun violence and racism in this country. What needs to be done?

We have to be clear-throated and unambiguous in underlining acts of racism.

The act in Buffalo was an act that was driven by anti-Black racism. In London, it was an act of Islamophobia. In Quebec City, it was an act of Islamophobia. We've seen gun violence and other places of worship, like synagogues, where those are acts of antisemitism. So it begins by calling it out.

When it comes to dealing with gun violence specifically, it is in my mandate to take more action to get deadly guns — like the AR-15s that have been used repeatedly in both ... the United States as well as here — out of our communities. And so we're absolutely committed and steadfast in our resolve to do that. And this tragedy last weekend was yet another very harsh reminder that we still have work to do.

Remembering the victims of the Quebec City mosque attack:

Minister, you say we need to call it out, but I notice that you have not used the words "white supremacy." Why not?

Well, absolutely. This was an act of anti-Black racism, which was driven by an ideologically motivated extremist rhetoric that is associated with white supremacy. It is a harsh reality that exists not only in the United States, but, indeed, in Canada and around the world. 

What is the difference you see between racism and white supremacy?

I think in some ways they're inexorably linked. Any individual who believes that one race is superior over another is, in effect, I think, subscribing to a racist view. And so, you know, in my view, there is a connection and it's seeded in fear. It's seeded increasingly in disinformation, which is running rampant online and in social media. And that is a profound concern of the government, and I think it should be a profound concern to all of us.

But do you feel that there are systems within even the Canadian government that are contributing to this white supremacist theory [or] behaviour?

When you see conspiracy theories like the "great replacement" theory in connection with, you know, disinformation, it does give fertile ground to more hatred, more fear-mongering and more violence.

Buffalo residents mourn victims of mass shooting:

Quite recently, one of the organizers of the Ottawa truck convoy, Pat King, was an outspoken proponent of the white replacement theory espoused by the Buffalo [shooting suspect].  What does the treatment of that convoy say about how seriously Canada's law enforcement agencies take white supremacism?

Indeed, he was. And I have now on several occasions spoken out very publicly [about this], but the spark behind the so-called Freedom Convoy was, at its core, ideologically motivated rhetoric and extremism, including the statement that you just made, including other statements that he and other leaders of that of that illegal blockade [made], like the only way this is going to end is with bullets.

This is just another harsh reminder that we have to redouble our efforts to fight the scourge of racism and to make sure that we are keeping our communities safe.

Can I get you, minister, just to give us a tangible example of what has actually changed in terms of prevention since the London, Ont., targeted attack in June 2021 on a Muslim family [and] since [the] January 2017 … mass shooting at the mosque in Quebec City?

Since that time, the government has hosted a number of summits focused on hate and racism based on the kind of extremist rhetoric that we've been discussing. So there were two summits, one on Islamophobia and the other on antisemitism, which have led to a number of concrete recommendations being implemented by the government, again, to amplify the need to call it out, but equally to invest tangible resources in partnership with communities, to raise awareness, to promote education [and] to fight against disinformation. 

Those programs have been and will continue to be rolled out in conjunction with the tremendous leadership that we're seeing from communities that are disproportionately impacted by hate and racism.

And within my own file, I will tell you that I'm leading work to be sure that, within our own institutions, we're addressing systemic racism by promoting more diversity within our ranks.

When it comes to gun violence specifically, just last week we announced additional measures — common-sense measures — to make sure that guns don't fall into the hands of wrong people, of criminals, the ones that we've seen in our own country, as well as in the United States, who commit these grotesque asks, which are driven by hate and racism.

Yumna Afzaal, 15, Madiha Salman, 44, Talat Afzaal, 74, and Salman Afzaal, 46, left to right, were out for an evening walk in London, Ont., last year when they were run over by a truck in what police say was an attack motivated by anti-Muslim hate. A young boy survived. (Submitted by the Afzaal family)

With all due respect, minister, I'm hearing a lot of intention, but not a lot of examples of concrete action. I mean, what about combating hate online through social media?

There is another example there, in that we have very much [proposed] online legislation that is being discussed and engaged by my colleague [Heritage] Minister [Pablo] Rodriguez

Last month, a coalition of gun control activists wrote a public letter saying that "offloading the responsibility to ban handguns to provinces would be a disaster politically, legally, and most importantly in terms of public safety." Are they going to get the kind of national policy they say that Canada needs?

I've been engaged very intensely with advocates in this space … and I believe that as a result of their advice, our policies have been improved, including the measures that we introduced last week, the regulations under Bill C-71. And when it comes to making sure that we get AR-15s and deadly firearms out of our communities, we're going to buy them back.

And we're going to take more action when it comes to handguns, as your question points out, and we hope to have a national approach that will be very much in keeping, I think, with the advice that we've been listening to, again, with good faith and with a mutual and common cause to make progress.


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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