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NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has a plan to combat racism and Islamophobia

WATCH: New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh said at an event on Wednesday that Canadians have "a collective responsibility" to denounce hate.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh discussed his party’s plans to address racism and discrimination during a town hall in Toronto on Wednesday night.

Those plans include beefing up police resources to investigate hate crimes and imposing a federal ban on carding.

He also called on the federal government to take a stronger stand against what he described as the “hateful, divisive, Islamophobic” rhetoric of U.S. President Donald Trump.

WATCH: My presence in Quebec ‘is an act of defiance’ against Quebec Bill 21: Singh

My presence in Quebec ‘is an act of defiance’ against Quebec Bill 21: Singh
My presence in Quebec ‘is an act of defiance’ against Quebec Bill 21: Singh
“One [of our commitments] is to be very clear around calling out and denouncing Islamophobia. That has already been done, and people do it regularly, so we need to go beyond that,” Singh told those in attendance at the event, the first in a series of election-related town halls hosted by the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), which advocates for Muslim communities across the country.

Singh’s appearance came amid low fundraising rates for his party, a mass exodus of candidates from the New Brunswick NDP for the Greens, and a dip in recent polling

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WATCH BELOW (2018): Jagmeet Singh on confronting racism as a child: ‘They would pull off my turban and pull my hair’

Jagmeet Singh on confronting racism as a child: ‘They would pull off my turban and pull my hair’
Jagmeet Singh on confronting racism as a child: ‘They would pull off my turban and pull my hair’

The NDP’s 2019 platform, unveiled in June, includes a section on “confronting racism” that includes the proposal for banning carding. The platform also includes increasing the number of hate crime units.

When asked by NCCM executive Mustafa Farooq whether increasing funding for hate crimes units would address broader issues around racism, especially for Muslim communities, Singh responded that policing is “never going to be the solution on its own.”

Recent federal data shows that the majority of hate crimes in Canada are not solved by police, amid a disproportionate increase in such crimes against Muslim and Jewish people, and people of colour.

“It is really difficult for Muslims right now,” Singh said. “It is very clear that Muslims are being targeted, it is very scary.”

He said police forces should be taught to “use the tools that exist” and that the laws should be “easier to apply.”

This could be done through changes to the Criminal Code, he said — although he did not specify what those changes could be.

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WATCH BELOW: NDP unveils ‘New Deal for People’ 2019 election platform

NDP unveils ‘New Deal for People’ 2019 election platform
NDP unveils ‘New Deal for People’ 2019 election platform

Singh added that he and his party would delve into the “root causes” of racism, and called on the current government to call out President Trump for his inflammatory rhetoric.

“One of the biggest divisive leaders who is perpetually spouting off divisive things and has a huge audience and is influencing not just America, but is influencing Canada, is Mr. Trump. And he needs to be called out,” said Singh. “Without that, it creates essentially permission or a climate where it’s OK to hate and to divide.”

In July, Trudeau faced criticism for his initial response to a Trump rally in which participants yelled “send her back” when Trump referenced U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. Trudeau then issued a harsher statement, saying “I want everyone in Canada to know these comments are completely unacceptable and should not be allowed or encouraged in Canada.”

READ MORE: Trudeau, EU leader react to ‘send her back’ chant at Trump rally

Debates around racism and intolerance have come up repeatedly among the federal parties on the pre-election trail. Last week, the Liberals removed a Montreal candidate over allegations of anti-Semitism regarding some of his previous remarks.

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“The Liberal Party strongly condemns all forms of discrimination, and the same is always expected of our candidates,” the party wrote in a statement.

The party had already been reviewing the candidacy for a few weeks, something that prompted Conservative leader Andrew Scheer to accuse the Liberals of attempting to hide the candidate’s views.

“Trudeau talks a big game when it comes to condemning hatred and bigotry, but when it comes to anti-Semitism in his own party, he’s just not as advertised,” Scheer said in a press release on Wednesday.

READ MORE: Montreal Liberal candidate turfed following anti-Semitism allegations

In June, the Liberal government released its first anti-racism strategy that pledged $45 million over three years to tackle systemic discrimination through education and other community programs, and to boost data collection on race and ethnicity.

The strategy, called “Building a Foundation for Change,” will also create an office to oversee the initiative. 

The most recent national crime data by Statistics Canada from 2018 shows that reported hate crimes were down for the first time in five years, after a significant spike in 2017, but advocates have said those numbers may not provide the complete picture.

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At the town hall, Singh also addressed Bill 21, the newly-passed Quebec legislation that bars public servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols on the job. The law has been slammed by human rights and civil liberties advocates as targeting people who wear hijabs and turbans, including Singh, who is a practicing Sikh.

Singh repeated his condemnation of the law, which he said promotes social division. As a candidate who wears a turban, he said the law has automatically become an election issue, and that his presence in Quebec is an act of defiance against it.

READ MORE: New teacher leaves Quebec for British Columbia over Bill 21

Singh’s party is expected to face an uphill battle for votes in Quebec.

The NDP currently holds 14 seats in Quebec, slightly higher than the 11 held by the Conservative and 10 held by the Bloc Quebecois. The Liberal Party has 40 seats. 

Singh prominently displays his turban in a new French ad released by the NDP this week. He’s also shown with his hair down.

“I’m not like the others,” Singh said in in the video, in voiceover. “Like you, I’m proud of my identity.”

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NDP Quebec lieutenant Alexandre Boulerice told The Globe and Mail that the ad is meant to convey the leader’s authenticity and genuine nature.

“This is his identity and his religion but it is not a big deal,” he said. 

In addition to the tough road ahead in Quebec, the NDP was dealt a blow this week when it lost candidates with the provincial New Brunswick NDP and a member of the federal NDP executive team, Jonathan Richardson, to the provincial and federal Green Party.

READ MORE: Some former NDP candidates in N.B. say they weren’t part of exodus to Greens

Richardson told the Canadian Press that racism played a role in why the NDP could not find candidates in the region.

“[T]he racism card came up a lot — especially in the northern part of the province,” said Richardson.

On Wednesday, the Green Party issued a statement saying that there is “no room for any kind of racism or bias within the Green Party of Canada” and that some of Richardson’s comments were “taken out of context and have led to accusations of racism against the party.”

The statement, which did not specify what exactly was taken out of context, quoted Green Party leader Elizabeth May saying her party has “zero tolerance for sexism, Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia or hate speech of any kind. Canada’s strength lies in its diversity.”

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WATCH BELOW: NDP in turmoil as candidates defect weeks before election

NDP in turmoil as candidates defect weeks before election
NDP in turmoil as candidates defect weeks before election

Singh’s brother, Gurratan Singh, who is an Ontario MPP for Brampton East, also made headlines this week after a video posted to social media showed a confrontation between him and a man later identified as the founder of the National Citizens Alliance, a far-right federal political party.

The man was shown confronting Gurratan Singh at MuslimFest over the weekend and asking whether he supports “political Islam” and Sharia law.

“We don’t need that kind of racism in Canada,” responded Gurratan Singh, who, like his brother, is Sikh.

The video then showed security officials trying to lead the man out of the way as he yelled, “I’m not racist. I’m not racist at all.”

In response to the encounter, Jagmeet Singh told reporters that he was proud of his brother, who was also praised online for the way he handled the situation.

“I’ve got to admit, I’m proud of my brother for responding with strength, responding clearly that that is wrong,” he said.

“For so many Canadians this is a realty, that what happened to my brother yesterday is not a one-off incident.”

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WATCH BELOW: MPP Gurratan Singh applauded for response to Islamophobic remarks in Mississauga

MPP Gurratan Singh applauded for response to Islamophobic remarks in Mississauga
MPP Gurratan Singh applauded for response to Islamophobic remarks in Mississauga

The federal leader said it’s important for people to unite against all forms of racism and hatred.

“Any time I’ve faced — or any time my brother clearly has been faced — with Islamophobia, the response hasn’t been, ‘Hey, I’m not Muslim,’ it’s, ‘Hey, hate is wrong and we’ve got to stand together.'”

In 2017, Jagmeet Singh, then a candidate for NDP leadership, was confronted by a woman at a campaign event in Brampton who hurled anti-Muslim accusations at him.

A video posted online showed the woman accusing him of being “in bed with Sharia” and the Muslim Brotherhood.

After trying to speak to the woman, Singh led the crowd in chanting the phrase “love and courage.”

— With files from the Canadian Press