'All the power to Jagmeet Singh': Canadians, PM defend NDP Leader who called Bloc MP 'racist'

Bryan Meler
Associate Editor, Yahoo News Canada

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the Bloc Québécois' actions “disappointing” and “problematic,” a day after NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was asked to leave the House of Commons for calling an MP “racist.”

Singh directed the words at Bloc member Alain Therrien on Wednesday, after the House of Commons failed to receive unanimous consent to pass a New Democrat motion on Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) discrimination.

Trudeau did not say if he thought the action of the Bloc was “racist,” despite being asked multiple times. Instead, he once again admitted to Canadians at his daily press conference that systemic discrimination and racism exists in the RCMP and in Canada, while showing support for Singh’s choice to speak out. 

“In regards to what Mr. Singh said, it is not for me to criticize any Canadian, particularly not the only racialized leader in the House of Commons for making other people uncomfortable by calling them out for not recognizing systemic discrimination,” said Trudeau. 

“I think it is important that we recognize that racialized Canadians, whose lived reality is discrimination and micro-aggression all too often... are allowed to make people uncomfortable in bringing out these issues.”

Trudeau said the Bloc members need to explain why they continue to resist recognizing systemic racism in Canada, and the lived experiences of millions of Canadians.

On Wednesday, the NDP leader had asked the House of Commons to recognize that systemic racism exists in the RCMP. Singh also asked all parties to join him in calling for a review of the force’s budget, while ensuring the federal police force is held accountable, since “several Indigenous people have died at the hands of the RCMP in recent months.”

It was initially unclear who in the Commons decided against the move, but Bloc MP Claude DeBellefeuille spoke out in Therrien's defence, saying Singh’s words were unacceptable. Singh then doubled-down on his comments, and also refused to apologize after being asked to by the Speaker, which resulted in his dismissal.

"It's true, I called him a racist, and I believe that's so," Singh said.

The RCMP has come under increased scrutiny in the past few weeks, especially after the release of a dashcam video showing Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam being punched and choked by officers.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki initially didn’t want to admit that systemic racism existed in the police force, but she corrected herself late last week.

Trudeau has acknowledged that systemic racism exists in Canada, including in the RCMP, but not all leaders nationwide have come to the same conclusion.

”I think it remains problematic that the Bloc Québécois refuses to recognize systemic racism in the RCMP and in this country,” said Trudeau on Thursday. “The first step is recognizing that there is a problem so we can address it. It is unfortunate that they continue to resist recognizing the lived reality of millions of Canadians who are Indigenous or racialized.”

Following his dismissal from the House of Commons, Singh spoke about what happened between himself and Therrien, which caused him to react in the manner that he did.

Singh said the Speaker was about to move forward with the motion, until hearing Therrien repeatedly say “no.” When the two MPs made contact, Singh said “that MP” proceeded to “brush his hand, dismiss it.”

“In that moment I got angry, but I am sad now, because why can’t we act?” said Singh at a press conference shortly after, while trying to hold back his emotions. “Why can’t we do something to save peoples’ lives? We can do something, and why would someone say no to that?”

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet is now demanding an apology from Singh, while asking House Speaker Anthony Rota to be “severe” if one is not extended to Therrien.

Blancet said Therrien isn’t “a racist” and that “he loves everyone.”

Singh does not plan to apologize, because “he has nothing to apologize for," said a spokesperson for the NDP leader’s office to CBC. Singh also plans on returning to the House of Commons on Thursday, but at this moment it’s not clear if he’ll face further sanctions, after being asked to leave on Wednesday.

When a Speaker finds an MP's words disorderly or offensive, they can ask the MP to "withdraw the unparliamentary word or phrase unequivocally." The apology is then accepted in good faith and the matter is considered resolved.

"However, if the member refuses to obey the directive of the Speaker to retract his or her words, the chair may refuse to recognize the member until the words have been withdrawn, or may name the member for disregarding the authority of the chair and order the member to withdraw from the chamber for the remainder of the sitting," according to the rulebook.

On Thursday, Blanchet said that systemic racism exists in some Canadian institutions, and that it “must be extracted.”

"It must be found and removed from our rules and institutions and behaviours. I believe that this exists. I respect entirely somebody that does not believe that. And it does not make a racist of such a person," he said. "I do believe it does exist and it must be addressed as an issue peacefully, calmly, respectfully, in order to improve what communities might be submitted to. Everybody is equal."

Amid Canadians standing up for Singh, others also took to Twitter to condemn his word choice and his recent actions.

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