Jagmeet Singh: Apologizing to Bloc MP would be 'akin to saying I'm sorry for fighting systemic racism'
‘I can't apologize for that,’ NDP leader says, ‘I would be letting down too many people’
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says apologizing to the Bloc Québécois for calling one of its MPs racist would be the same as apologizing for standing up against systemic racism — and that's something he will not do.
The comment comes a day after Speaker Anthony Rota kicked Singh out of the House of Commons for calling Bloc MP Alain Therrien a racist. The following morning, Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet held a press conference to demand an apology from Singh.
Therrien did not respond to an interview request from As It Happens.
Singh says he made the remark after Therrien was the only MP who could be heard audibly objecting to an NDP motion for the House to acknowledge that systemic racism exists within the RCMP, support a review of the RCMP budget, call on the police force to release all of its use-of-force reports, and demand a review of how police interact with the public.
In recent weeks, police in Canada have come under scrutiny for the police shooting of an Indigenous woman in New Brunswick during a wellness check, footage of RCMP officers beating a First Nations chief in Alberta, video showing an RCMP officer hitting an Inuk man with a truck door, and the death of a Black-Indigenous woman in Toronto who fell from a balcony during a police encounter.
Singh spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off on Thursday about his motion and the conflict that ensued. Here is part of their conversation.
Mr. Singh, I'm going to begin with asking you what did happen yesterday?
We're in a moment where people have taken to the streets in the thousands across Canada in communities small and large. It's been really special to see, even in small communities, people saying, "You know what? Black lives do matter. Indigenous lives matter."
And in this same time, we've seen the RCMP at the heart of some horrible examples of police brutality.
In light of all of this and the inaction of Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau and the inaction of the Liberal government, we put forward a motion to push for some real change.
So we laid out, 1) Let's acknowledge that there is systemic racism in the RCMP, completely federal jurisdiction, fully within the powers of the House of Commons to legislate. Let's acknowledge that. And 2) Let's do something about it. So use-of-force review, emphasizing de-escalation of conflicts instead of escalating conflict, and then really responding to health-care crises with health care workers.
When [the motion] was presented, I was confident it would pass. The Speaker called for the consent and I heard a lot of "yays" and I was not surprised.
And then there was one "No."
I looked back and I saw one person in the entire House of Commons saying no. And then I looked back and they kind of just made this gesture of dismissal.
And that gesture of dismissal really is what I want to talk about. It is this notion that it doesn't matter.
Racism is exactly that. It's kind of saying that people don't matter. Their lives don't matter. There is no value to their lives.
What was the gesture? And describe what you think it means.
I looked back and I saw an MP wave their hand in a dismissive motion while saying, "No, no, of course not." Almost like, matter-of-factly, like, of course not. Why would we support a motion like this?
And I thought, how offensive to all the people, to all the Indigenous people, the Black people, the racialized people that are fighting for change, to just wave-of-a hand dismiss and say no to something so vital and meaningful.
And so what did you say to Alain Therrien?
I put my hands up [and said] "Well, how could you do that?".
And he said, "Yeah, I did it."
And I said, "You're a racist for voting against this."
Then he challenged me to go outside and then he raised his voice, and I said, "Yeah, I'm calling you racist. This is wrong. This is wrong. I can't believe you voted against it. This is wrong."
Mr. Blanchet says that by extension of accusing Alain Therrien of being a racist, that you are calling Bloc Québecois a racist party, that they're all racist. And he says that they're not, that they come from a nation of Quebec which is welcoming and open, that they appreciate diversity. Do you think the Bloc Québécois is a racist party?
This is a really important question.
In this experience, I have not named a party. I called out one person. But I will name a party.
The systemic racism that we're up against was created by those in power. As far as I know, the only two parties that have been in power in Canada have been either Conservative or Liberal.
So let me name the parties that are responsible for systemic racism in Canada — Liberal and Conservative. Full stop.
Do you think that at least the Liberals, that Prime Minister Trudeau has acknowledged systemic racism?
The prime minister has said some nice things, and in fact, said some really kind words about what happened yesterday. And I acknowledge that. I appreciate that. But people are demanding action.
And while I know the prime minister has said very positive things, it is just not enough. We need to see the systemic change.
And in fact — and this troubles me to say this because I've been very critical of [U.S.] President [Donald] Trump — but in this moment, President Trump has actually moved more quickly to put in place changes to policing than Prime Minister Trudeau has. That is wrong, but that's the reality.
I wonder just finally where you will take this from here, because we were just remembering different times when you have confronted racism in public, and going back to when you were campaigning for the leadership, that extraordinary moment when that woman, racist woman, came up and was talking to you and you reached out to her. You said she's loved. You wanted to include her. You want to bring her into an understanding. Do you think that you have changed your approach in that regard?
No, I think that is the only way forward.
While I don't take back calling out systemic racism ... it can't just be calling it out. It has to be more than just calling out. It has to be the systemic change.
And I want to really use my efforts that we have to bring people along. It's got to be through love and having the courage to to do what's necessary to make the changes. And I still believe in that.
Mr. Blanchet said he thinks maybe you just had a bad moment, that you lost it. And he thinks that there's a way to move forward, to patch this up, to get past it. He doesn't want this to go on and on. What do you want to happen now?
I agree that this should never be about, you know, two MPs. This should be about how can we fight systemic racism and how can we bring in new policies and new laws to change it?
So I feel like if anything can come out of this, it should be let's commit to making some changes, some real changes that save people's lives.
Are you going to apologize?
If it was about just me, I'm quick to apologize. I believe in this principle of not letting egos get in the way. But it's gone beyond me. And people have looked at this as a moment where someone has finally stood up to them.
People sent me so many messages saying, you know, we face this in our lives. We face this, and for someone to just not back down makes us feel like we matter.
Racism sends a message that people don't matter. And in that act, it made people feel like they mattered. And I don't want to take that away from people.
So it's become important for you not to say you're sorry about this.
It would be akin to saying I'm sorry for fighting systemic racism now. And I can't say that I'm sorry for fighting it.
I don't apologize for wanting to force the Liberal government to do something. I don't apologize for being upset that the House of Commons couldn't just acknowledge — together, united — couldn't acknowledge that there's systemic racism in the RCMP, which is so awful. I can't apologize for that. I would be letting down too many people.
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. Edited for length and clarity.'