Prime Minister Justin Trudeau isn’t sharing what he thinks about U.S. President Donald Trump’s language and behaviour amid escalating anti-racism protests, despite facing pointed questions on Tuesday.
On Monday, police cleared a crowd of largely peaceful protesters using tear gas and other means of force for a presidential photo-op at a historic Washington, D.C., church.
At a news conference on Tuesday, a journalist asked Trudeau what he thought about those actions and what message he believes he’s sending if he doesn’t comment on them.
Trudeau paused for about 20 seconds before responding, and when he finally spoke, he didn’t mention the U.S. president by name.
“We all watch in horror and consternation what’s going on in the United States. It is a time to pull people together but it is a time to listen. It is a time to learn what injustices continue despite progress over years and decades,” he said.
“But it is a time for us as Canadians to recognize that we, too, have our challenges, that Black Canadians and racialized Canadians face discrimination as a lived reality every single day.”
Systemic discrimination exists in Canada, and “it’s something many of us don’t see,” the prime minister added.
“We need to be allies in the fight against discrimination,” Trudeau continued.
Pressed again on the question about the U.S. president’s recent words and actions, Trudeau said his job “as a Canadian prime minister” is to stand up for the country’s citizens, interests and values.
“That is what I have done from the very beginning and that is what I will continue to do,” he replied.
The prime minister’s comments come as outrage and protests over the death George Floyd continue to escalate worldwide, including in Canada.
Floyd, a Black man, died in police custody after a white Minneapolis police officer was filmed kneeling on his neck.
Trudeau addressed the U.S. protests once more in a statement in the House of Commons shortly after his daily press conference, saying Canadians, as a country, “are not concerned bystanders simply watching what is happening next door.”
“We are part of it,” he said.
The prime minister acknowledged he has “made serious mistakes in the past” — presumably in reference to revelations last year that he wore blackface on several occasions as a young man and teacher. But “not being perfect is not a free pass not to do the right thing,” he continued.
“I’m not here today to describe a reality I do not know or speak to a pain I have not felt. I want you to know that our government is listening,” he said.
“We hear your calls for justice, equality and accountability. We acknowledge your frustration, your anger, your heartbreak. We see you.”
On Tuesday, Trudeau said several times that the Liberal government has taken “several concrete steps” since taking power in 2015 to fight systemic discrimination and anti-Black racism in Canada and work alongside the Black community, but federal leaders accept there is “lots more to do.”
The Liberals have invested more money into community organizations and gathering better data and have worked with the Black business community to ensure “better access to capital for young entrepreneurs,” Trudeau said.
The federal government also directed the national public health agency to offer more mental health services to individuals who have experienced racism or intergenerational trauma, he noted. In 2019, an anti-racism secretariat was tasked with addressing systemic racism and discrimination in federal institutions, policies and services.
At a separate news conference Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was also asked to comment specifically on Trump’s threat to call in the army to deal with protesters. Freeland, like Trudeau, also refrained from mentioning the U.S. president by name.
Asked whether she was concerned about blowback from the U.S., Freeland responded: “What I am concerned about, actually, is Canadian complacency.
“I think that it’s really, really important for us to set our own house in order and for us to really be aware of the pain that anti-Black racism causes here in our own country, of the reality that we do have systemic discrimination here in Canada.
“And I think that we as Canadians, all of us need to take this very traumatic moment for many people in the world as an opportunity to look at what we are doing in Canada and to work hard to do better.”
— With files from Global News’ Sean Boynton, David Lao and Emerald Bensadoun