The West Block — Episode 40, Season 9

Click to play video: 'The West Block: Jun 7'
The West Block: Jun 7
Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, June 7, 2020 with Mercedes Stephenson. – Jun 7, 2020


Episode 40, Season 9

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guests: Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger;

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh; and Dr. Michael Eric Dyson 

Location: Ottawa


Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block: Racism, global protests.

President Donald Trump: “I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers.”

Jackson Proskow, Global News, Washington, DC Bureau Chief: “Here in Washington, DC, the military is now patrolling the streets. Thousands of National Guard troops have been called up, and we’ve seen an increased police presence almost everywhere.”

Mercedes Stephenson: And calls for action here at home.

Official Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer: “I am heartbroken by the killing of George Floyd.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “We all watch in horror and consternation what’s going on in the United States.”

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May: “Pretty words are so much better than vile language so bad that Twitter decides to put a warning that it insights violence.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: “We could immediately have the government act to end the over-incarceration of black and Indigenous bodies.”

Mercedes Stephenson: For days now, we have been watching marches, protests and even riots around the globe, following the death of George Floyd, a black American man who died while in police custody late last month. Video capturing the incident shows a white police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck, as Floyd repeatedly says: “I can’t breathe” and calls for his mother.

Here at home, a call to action to end racism in Canada.

Story continues below advertisement

Late last week, this video of a Nunavut man being struck by a police vehicle before his arrest sparked outrage. Here’s Indigenous Minister Mark Miller on that video.

Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller: “A car door is not a proper police tactic. It’s a disgraceful, dehumanizing and violent act. I don’t understand how someone dies during a wellness check. I’m pissed, I’m outraged. There needs to be a full accounting of what has gone on. This is a pattern that keeps repeating itself.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Joining me now is the Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger. Thank you for joining us, minister.

Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger: Thank you for having me.

Mercedes Stephenson: You heard the plea from your colleague, Marc Miller, on Parliament Hill. He is extraordinarily upset about the incident with the RCMP in Nunavut striking a man there with an RCMP vehicle door before arresting him, the death of Chantel Moore, an Indigenous woman in New Brunswick who was shot and killed by police. These are just two of the multiple incidents we’ve heard about involving police forces in Canada, and in particular, the RCMP. Do you think that there is a problem with racism in Canadian police forces?

Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger: I would say when it comes to systemic racism, it exists in Canada. This is something that we not only need to confront—not only something we need to acknowledge, but something we need to take action on and we need better outcomes. And that’s exactly what work I am doing at the cabinet table. But the video footage that’s coming out, yes, as you’ve said, numerous incidences, and very unfortunate, but we need to do something about it.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that there need to be more serious consequences for police officers who engage in these kinds of actions?

Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger: [00:03:27], the conversation of systemic racism, anti-black racism, anti-Indigenous racism with COVID-19, we’ve seen the return of the rise of anti-Asian racism. Racism exists, and we need to do a deep dive in every single federal department and agency if we really do want to find a stronger way forward, a better way forward.
Story continues below advertisement

Mercedes Stephenson: We’re one year out from the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, still no reaction on that from the federal government. You’ve talked about racism and systemic racism and policing, but nothing has changed at the RCMP, according to the Native Women’s Association. So what are the kind of concrete actions that your government is prepared to take?

Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger: I will tell you that based on your question and based on what we’re hearing, it’s clear that a lot more needs to be done. We knew when we were elected in 2015 that the decision-making table needs to be different. We acted when it came to gender, so the GBA being part of the work we were doing was essential, but the GBA+ is where we need to do a lot more work. And that’s exactly why when it came to the new appointment process, it was really to ensure that the diversity of Canadians from coast to coast to coast was being reflected at the decision-making table. If the decision-making table is not reflected with Canada’s diversity or it’s not being informed by lived experiences, we will not have different outcomes. And that’s why it’s important that we create those opportunities in those spaces for us to listen, us to learn and then obviously, bring out policies that will have better outcomes. And that’s why the anti-racism strategy was informed by black Canadians, by racialized Canadians so that it would lay a foundation for the way we move forward, because we know that systemic racism is ingrained within our institutions. And—

Mercedes Stephenson: But minister, there are some concrete steps that have been suggested, for example, by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. Are you looking at any of those? Things like banning racial profiling in policing.

Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger: And that’s exactly it. Yes, when it comes to the segregated data, working with different levels of government, our government has made that commitment. If you look at the Immunity Task Force that was set up in response to COVID-19, we’re talking about the segregated data. We have a commitment from provinces and territories to be collecting that information so that we can make decisions based on science and evidence. That is a step in the right direction, but also provides us an opportunity to ensure when it comes to different departments, when it comes to justice, when it comes to public safety and the list goes on, that this data is being collected so that we can definitely look at the suggestions that other leaders are also providing, I will say once again, it will take all of us. [00:06:14 My door is open], I will work with everyone. And the will that exists right now from coast to coast to coast is one that I will continue to build upon and work with, to ensure that we have better outcomes and results.
Story continues below advertisement

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister, what was your take on the prime minister’s 21 seconds of silence when he was asked about Donald Trump? It seems to be a very polarizing issue. Some people say, you know, he was—he was expressing his disapproval in that silence. Others think he should have said something much stronger. What do you think?

Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger: I will say that, you know, leadership is essential, but when it comes to racism in Canada, it exists. We need to get our own house in order, and it’s not good enough just to be better than other countries. We believe, and our values include having an inclusive Canada, and if we want a truly inclusive Canada, then we need to deep—do a deep dive within our own institutions and make the necessary changes to have better outcomes.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister, I have to ask you about one of your colleagues, Marwan Tabbara, he is a Liberal Member of Parliament. He has been charged with assault, break and enter, and criminal harassment. These charges were laid back in April and we just found out about them on Friday. What do you know about the situation?

Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger: I understand that it is a developing situation. It’s a matter we take very seriously and we will continue to see what comes out of it. I understand that he has a court appearance, and as it is in front of the courts it’s important that the independence of our judicial system do what it needs to do.

Mercedes Stephenson: Was your caucus aware of these charges before Friday?

Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger: I was not aware.

Mercedes Stephenson: Thank you for joining us, minister.

Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger: Thank you for taking this situation as seriously as it is. When it comes to anti-black racism, anti-Indigenous, anti-Asian, racism in general, this should not be something we take lightly. We need to continue following up on the story so that we see better outcomes and results. I look forward to being available.

Mercedes Stephenson: Thank you for doing that. We’ll have you back.

Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger: Thank you so much.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh on racism, and his push for more action on the fallout of COVID-19.

Story continues below advertisement

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland: “There can’t be any tolerance for racism or bias in any police force in Canada. Racial profiling is unacceptable, and our government is absolutely committed to upholding the Canadian Charter of Rights.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. That was Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is calling on the government to do more, to fight racism. What does that mean and what would it look like? Here to explain now is NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. Thank you for joining us, Mr. Singh.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: My pleasure.

Mercedes Stephenson: Let’s start with policing because that’s what we just hearing the deputy prime minister talk about. This week, there have been—a very disturbing video that surfaced from Nunavut of a man up there being “doored” by the RCMP officer who was pulling up to arrest him. He knocks the man down with his door. That has spurred allegations of racism up in Nunavut. We’ve also heard the story of Chantel Moore, an Indigenous woman who was killed by police when they went to do a wellness check on her. Do you think that we have a problem with racism in the RCMP and in Canadian police forces?

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Well let’s be very clear, we have a problem with systemic racism at all levels, whether you’re talking about policing or we’re talking about incarceration, access to justice, education, housing, health care outcomes. There is clear evidence in all these areas that there is systemic racism, and so that’s why I’m calling for really clear policy changes to do something about it. It’s not enough to just say the pretty words. When the Liberal governments in power, they have the ability to do things, real action that would actually improve the lives of people.

Mercedes Stephenson: I know some of the actions that you’re calling for on that: an end to racial profiling, an end to the over-policing of the black and Indigenous communities, and an end to the over-incarceration of Indigenous and black communities. How do you actually put that into policy, though? Because the federal government could address this with the RCMP, but they can’t direct police and they have no power over municipal forces.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Well they had a lot of power of the federally regulated policing services. So that includes the RCMP, CSIS, Canadian Border Security Agency and a host of others. And what could be done is a clear mandate, very clearly stating that the racial profiling or carding, which is to arbitrarily detain someone because of who they are, the colour of their skin, without having grounds, needs to be banned. There could be legislation to ban that. Something we pushed for in Ontario, we’re able to get some of the way there with regulation changes that clearly mandated that police should not and could not stop people just because of the colour of their skin. That’s something that needs to be done. In addition, when it comes to the incarceration rate, that’s fully within the federal jurisdiction, and we’re talking about sentencing provisions, which means those who were Indigenous, and black, and people of colour are over-represented in jails. We can change that with sentencing changes that is completely within the federal powers to do.

Mercedes Stephenson: Can you explain what some of those sentencing changes would look like?

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Well we know that some of the mandatory minimums have disproportionately impacted those who are racialized: Indigenous people, black people. So changing those mandatory minimums to give discretion back to judges, ensuring that the discretion includes assessing the systemic racism that exists, and ensuring that there’s less incarceration but more rehabilitative options, more in-community sentences, there’s a host of real concrete changes that can be brought at the criminal justice level, at the federal level, because that is what governs all the sentencing, provisions and all the incarceration type of laws that’s very clearly within the federal government’s power to do, and something I’m asking for the federal government to do. Not just restate pretty words, but to actually do something about it. Here are some concrete steps.

Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. Singh, you were very critical of Prime Minister’s Trudeau’s 21 or 22 second pause, heard round the world. You thought that he should have condemned President Trump much more strongly. If you were the prime minister, what would you say publicly about the president, realizing there could be repercussions for Canada economically and politically?

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Well, I think it’s important to understand that it’s not easy to do the right things. It’s difficult, it takes courage. And in certain discussions when we’re discussing trade agreements, maybe there’s a time to be strategic and to be careful. But when a president of the United States, Mr. Trump, is saying things like basically calling on war against its own citizens in a way that’s defamatory, that’s inflammatory, that’s divisive, that’s basically increasing racism, that’s increasing tensions, then there is a responsibility to do the difficult thing and to say that Trump—that Mr. Trump’s comments are irresponsible and reprehensible, that it is wrong to insight anger and to insight hatred, that what a president should be doing is finding ways to bring people together, and that is not what President Trump did. And not only does the prime minister of Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau, but all global leaders have a responsibility to call out when something is happening that is so dangerous to people.

Get the day's top news, political, economic, and current affairs headlines, delivered to your inbox once a day.

Get daily National news

Get the day's top news, political, economic, and current affairs headlines, delivered to your inbox once a day.
By providing your email address, you have read and agree to Global News' Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. Singh, I also want to ask you about COVID-19 and the situation there. You’ve called for 10 paid sick days, that’s something the government has said they’re going to try to implement. Parliament is scheduled to raise—or to rise, pardon me—for the summer relatively soon now. Are you confident that you’re going to see any kind of a budget or a fiscal accounting before that happens?

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Well we’re going to continue to use our tools that we have to hold government to account, and though normally Parliament wouldn’t be sitting in the summer, we were able to push for and negotiate some sitting days in the summer, to hold the government to account. We’ve been able to negotiate access to ministers that we’ve not seen before, and so we’re able to ask questions of ministers about budgets, about how much money’s being spent, but more importantly, about where it’s being spent. So we’re going to continue to use the tools we have, to ensure that we know, you know, if money is being spent on a business, is it going directly to jobs and job creation? If money is being sent to a different sector, what are the accountability measures to ensure that it’s actually creating jobs in Canada? So we’ve got a number of tools, we’re going to continue to use them. And on the paid sick leave, while we got the commitment from the government, we’re not going to sit back and accept that as good enough, we also want to see it implemented. So we’ll continue to put pressure throughout the next sitting days that we have right now, and also throughout the summer when we have some sitting days as well.

Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. Mr. Singh, thank you so much for joining us today.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Thank you very much.

Mercedes Stephenson: Anti-racism protests south of the border, we’ll get reaction up next.

Story continues below advertisement

President Donald Trump: “I will fight to protect you. I am your president of law and order. I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel, and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting.”

Presumptive Democratic Nominee Joe Biden: “The country is crying out for leadership, leadership that can unite us, leadership that brings us together. We’re not going to allow any president to quiet our voice.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. President Trump threatened to call in the army last week against protestors as we have watched America burning. Each day, thousands of Americans taking to the streets, to demonstrate against racism, inequality and police brutality, will there be change ahead for America?

Joining me now is Michael Eric Dyson, sociology professor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC and the author of the 2018 book, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America.

Welcome to the show, Dr. Dyson.

Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Georgetown University: Thanks for having me on.

Mercedes Stephenson: Sir, we are watching some very difficult images coming from our southern neighbour. Can you tell Canadians what does it feel like as an American man, as a black American man, to be in the United States experiencing this? How does it make you feel?

Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Georgetown University: Well, it is extraordinarily devastating to see time after time, and time and again, black people on—captured on film, on recording—on a video recording, being hunted down like an animal in the case of the young black man in Georgia who was shot by a father and son team, to the young man, Mr. George Floyd. All along, people said, well you must have done something. You must have said something. You must have provoked the cop. What happened? Now that we have the recordings, we can see that Mr. Floyd did not provoke his own death. He did not get obstreperous or in any way belligerent and yet he was murdered. So in our instance in American, in this point in our history, as black people, the reason many of us are hitting the streets, many of us are protesting across this nation, not just black people, but many other allies as well, is because this is enough. It is time for us to address this fundamental issue in our society. It’s a structural problem, not simply one of prejudice or bias, though that’s real. It’s about the underlying conditions of inequality and social injustice that keep black people at odds in American society with those who are the arbiters and the political forces that don’t seem to pay attention to our plight and predicament.

Mercedes Stephenson: We have seen extraordinary protests. We have seen American burning, but we’ve seen protests before when we have seen black men and women die at the hands of police or in police custody. Do you believe that this is the moment for America that is different, that this is the awakening that will finally bring change?

Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Georgetown University: I do. I think that this has struck a nerve, perhaps because we all saw him crying for his mother. Perhaps we all saw that he was defenseless, begging for his life. And so this was a moment that for America to say no, we’ve got to end this stuff right now. And it’s being picked up all over the world, why? Precisely because at this particular moment, there has been a determination among masses of people in this country that this must end now, there is no next time. We’ve got to fix it and we’ve got to address it right now.

Mercedes Stephenson: What do you think of the president’s behaviour?

Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Georgetown University: Reprehensible, though, representative at the same time. Here’s a man who is proud to be unmolested by enlightenment. He’s focusing on law and order, reinforcing a militaristic approach from law enforcement and other military forces that are being unleashed into the American public square. He has done nothing but exacerbate an already tenuous situation, and the top levers of government are being pulled by men who are grossly insensitive and lacking in empathy before the ordinary average black citizen. That’s a sad state of affairs to know that the leaders of your country don’t have the fundamental decency, or integrity, to address the structural inequalities that prevail, and the racist behaviour that they continue to fan and flame with their reckless rhetoric.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that that will manifest in change at the ballot box in just a few months’ time?

Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Georgetown University: I hope and pray so, but I think so, yes. I think enough people will be outraged, although the tragedy is, that there are many more who still adhere to this man’s presidency, who still support what he does. Who still don’t find a problem in what he’s done. Well, he might be a racist and he might be fanning the flames of neo-fascism, but hey, the economy is good. Well the economy ain’t good now. The COVID-19 pandemic has eviscerated this economy as it has in many countries. The unemployment rate has swelled and spiked, and now his, you know, predicate and premise for being re-elected has all but been eaten away. So hopefully, and prayerfully, those of us who are fed up will go to the polls and we’ll have a new president in November.

Mercedes Stephenson: Sir, we so often hear up here in Canada, as we watch the United States, well that’s Americans. That’s America, it’s a different history. It’s a different society. It’s a different story. What do you say to Canadians about racism right here in our own country?

Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Georgetown University: Oh, you got enough going on there: Indigenous people, Métis. You’ve got, you know, black people in Toronto, for instance, in Ottawa, and places who are being assaulted, who are being disregarded. So just because there’s no repeated cyclical flagrant offence, except there is episodically there, doesn’t mean that the people of colour in Canada are faring any better, and it doesn’t mean that Canadians, necessarily and automatically, have a conscientiousness that doesn’t need to be amped up, that doesn’t need to be interrogated, that the practices of Canada have to be subject to the same kind of scrutiny. So I think all of us would do well to remember that we should be self-introspective, we should reflect upon what our cultures are doing and what the politics allow us to do, and then challenge ourselves to live up to the best ideals of our respective countries.

Mercedes Stephenson: When our prime minister was asked about President Trump’s behaviour, he paused for a full 21 or 22 seconds before he answered that question. Some interpreted that pause as making a powerful silent point. Others thought that he should have come out and blatantly condemned President Trump. What are your thoughts on Prime Minister Trudeau’s response?

Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Georgetown University: Well he’s in a tough position. He’s a world leader. He’s got a fellow world leader at stake, but that’s signifying was powerful. He let us know what he believed, and I think that it is important to signify it that way. And at some point, Mr. Trudeau will have to find the backbone and wherewithal to finally say, I’ve got to cut ties with a man who’s been so destructive. He’s got to think about the relationship between America and Canada. He’s got to think about the vindictiveness of this American president, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to find your ability to stand strong in the principles that you’re willing to give your life for.

Mercedes Stephenson: Dr. Dyson, thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Georgetown University: Thank you very kindly for having me.

Mercedes Stephenson: That is all the time we have for today. Thank you for joining us. We’ll see you right back here next week.

Additional West Block programming aired in some markets on Sunday:

Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block: Systemic racism.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford: “We’re different than the United States and we don’t have the systemic and deep roots they have had for years.”

“There’s systemic racism across this country. I know it exists.”

Story continues below advertisement

Unidentified Person: “Canada has its own history of slavery, segregation. Canada has its own history of racial profiling.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

JWR: “The Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls report has 231 calls for justice. Can the government commit to release the action plan?”

Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett: “We have put in concrete actions to stop this national tragedy.”

Mercedes Stephenson: And, long-term care.

Dawna Friesen, Global National Anchor: “Long-term care homes have been the epicentre of COVID-19 outbreaks in Canada.”

Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer: “Tragically, over 82 per cent of deaths are linked to long-term care and seniors homes.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Protests against racism and inequality around the globe and right here at home have many Canadians calling for action, an end to racial profiling by police, and for the government to do more to repair the historical injustices that racialized communities have suffered. So, what can members of Parliament on the Hill do, when it comes to this call to action?

Joining me now, Liberal Member of Parliament Greg Fergus, and NDP Member of Parliament Matthew Green. Thank you both for making time for the show today.

Story continues below advertisement

Greg Fergus, MP—Hull—Aylmer: You’re welcome.

Matthew Green, MP—Hamilton Centre: Certainly a very important topic. Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: You know, I think one of the things we hear so often as Canadians, is that especially anti-black racism is an American problem, that Canada is somehow different. So today, can we start off by hearing a little bit about your experiences in Canada and your experiences as parliamentarians? Greg, would you start us off please?

Greg Fergus, MP—Hull—Aylmer: Well, first of all, I’d like to just make sure that we correct the record. Anti-black racism does exist here in Canada. Systemic discrimination does happen here in Canada. It’s—you can ask any person of colour, especially any black person, they can give you many examples of where they have felt aggressions from the small to the very large, even as something as physical and we see that in some of the violence that we—of the famous cases that we know that have happened in all parts of this country against black people. People have a lot of trouble understanding what the difference is between a systematic racism and systemic racism. Systemic racism is where you get these results which no one planned to do, but because of unconscious bias has led very much to some, you know, some real different results. For example, why are blacks and Indigenous peoples four and eight times more likely to find their population in jail than they would in a general population? Studies have shown that blacks and Indigenous peoples are no more apt to commit a crime than non-Indigenous and non-black people. So that’s one perfect example of what systemic discrimination is.

Mercedes Stephenson: Matthew, what has your experience been? And in particular, I want to ask you your thoughts on Canadian policing and whether there are the same issues here as there are in the United States?

Matthew Green, MP—Hamilton Centre: Well, certainly, you know, we’re seeing a discussion right now, and I appreciate Greg’s comments, particularly around indigeneity. This country was founded on systemic and intentional genocide of Indigenous people. We’re seeing it play out to this very day. Certainly, my heart goes out to Chantel Moore and her family. But particularly as it relates to policing, I think, you know, that the facts are that there have been 5—close to 500 fatal conflicts with civilians in policing, that there are fatal consequences of the way that we have framed public health in this country. And as it relates to black people, we know that in Toronto, black people are 20 times more likely to be killed by police that they make up slightly more than 8 per cent of the population, but they’re 30 per cent—they’re 37 per cent of the victims. And so, the only reason why we can get to that, the only reason why we can go beyond the very maple washed version of Canada is because we have race-based to segregated data. We have the statistics that identify and inoculate us against the racial amnesia of this country as it relates to disproportionate impacts of militarized policing on racialized communities.

Mercedes Stephenson: Greg, what has your experience been here on Parliament Hill, in particular, with the power structures that we see in Ottawa, which are traditionally very white?

Greg Fergus, MP—Hull—Aylmer: Well, a lot of my experience—I’m fortunate. My riding is right next door to Parliament Hill, a lot of my constituents work here on Parliament Hill so I personally haven’t been stopped by any policing on Parliament Hill. However, when I do travel abroad as part of a parliamentary delegation, I get more than raised eyebrows and sometimes just almost people with, you know, mouth agape when they discover that a guy with a name like Greg Fergus is a black parliamentarian. So those are those little things which you see from time to time.

Mercedes Stephenson: And what about you, Matthew?

Matthew Green, MP—Hamilton Centre: Well, I don’t necessarily want to centre the conversation on my own personal experience because I could suggest that any racialized person, any black person in particular, or any Indigenous person across this country has had their own traumatic experiences with policing. But what I can share, and speaking to that trauma, is I think about the conversation that’s happening right now in the United States as it relates to lynching. And I think about the lessons that the people in the lynch mobs who try to leave black communities by actually leaving black bodies hanging by trees, to send a message. And I feel that in this moment where we have the traumatizing and the re-traumatizing of all these videos and visuals of police brutality, what we’re seeing is non-black people and non-Indigenous people waking up to the realities of generational systemic violence. And so, you know, as it relates to the Hill, certainly this is the reason why I’m here, which is to fight inequality, which is to build a more just, caring and compassionate Canada, and to enter into an honest conversation around the state of racism in this country.

Mercedes Stephenson: And it is such an incredibly important conversation to be having, which is why we appreciate having your voices and your thoughts on this. Greg, what do you think needs to change in Canada to address this kind of systemic racism?

Greg Fergus, MP—Hull—Aylmer: Well, first of all, we have to admit it’s real. And I’m glad people are—I’m not glad, but we’ve all seen these brutal images, which makes it very real for people, we can’t not see what we’ve seen. Second thing, I think Matthew had quite correctly hit on it; we need to make sure that there is disaggregated data. We have to do that at all levels of government so that we could see what the results are, to see if there are changes. We know that on the prison—incarceration rates because we measure that. But we need to measure that in everything: access to business loans, access to social services. All those things would be very important and will be a gift that will keep on giving to improve the place of reducing anti-black racism in this country. And the second thing that I think we need is a lot of economic work on that, and this is the reason why Matthew and I work together, along with black parliamentarians as part of the Black parliamentarians caucus, to try to advance these and other issues.

Mercedes Stephenson: Matthew, how do you get more black voices into positions of power into Parliament, wanting to run for Parliament, being at the cabinet table, being as deputy ministers who are very powerful in Ottawa? How do you make some of those changes that put people with a different lived experience into the roles that are actually making the rules and defining the power structures?

Matthew Green, MP—Hamilton Centre: Well, a couple of things. If you can’t see it, you can’t be it. And so having role models like Greg and others who were here kind of ahead of me, you know, sister Celina Caesar-Chavannes There’s a whole long history of folks that have blazed the trails, but I think what’s important for the viewers to get very clear about is that you don’t have to be elected to have civic leadership. That having direct action and having rallies, having protests, making sure that you are resisting against systemic racism and against white supremacy, and every angle is very important and it’s very powerful. I think what we’re seeing right now is the new—the era of the new civil rights. If you go back to the ‘60s, you’ll know that those were student-led. Those were led by women and I think we’re seeing that again with groups like Black Lives Matter and Idle No More and many, many others that are emerging out of this very critical time.

Mercedes Stephenson: Greg, I know this is a tough question for you, but have you been satisfied with what your government has done so far?

Greg Fergus, MP—Hull—Aylmer: Well I’m satisfied that we’ve taken action that we took, but we do know the row to hoe is very, very long. And so there’s a lot of work that is left for us to do, and there’s a lot of work that we’re going to be able to do. And I’m glad that Canadians are being very supportive now that they are seeing what unconscious bias is and seeing what anti-black racism is. I find that the moment is now to make it go a lot further to help create better equality for all Canadians.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well thank you both so much for joining us. Unfortunately, it’s all the time we have but we do look forward to speaking to you about this issue again in the future.

Greg Fergus, MP—Hull—Aylmer: Thank you.

Matthew Green, MP—Hamilton Centre: Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, we’ll hear from the head of the Native Women’s Association on the government’s delayed action plan for missing, murdered Indigenous women and girls?

Story continues below advertisement

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh:  “It is the year anniversary for the release of the murdered, missing Indigenous women and girls calls for justice. I remember sitting in the room when the calls for justice were announced and thinking these are powerful announcements. These are powerful demands for justice and that the government must respond.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. That was NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. The government says that it has had to delay its response to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report that came out one year ago because of COVID-19. The report had 231 separate calls for justice in it. The government says that once we’re through the pandemic, they’ll put forward their response. But how is this delay being received within the Indigenous community?

Joining me now is Lorraine Whitman. She is the president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Lorraine, thank you for making time for us today.

Lorraine Whitman, President of the Native Women’s Association: Thank you for having me on. I appreciate it.

Mercedes Stephenson: It has now been one year since the report on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls was released. Do you feel that anything has changed?

Lorraine Whitman, President of the Native Women’s Association: No. I’m very disappointed that there hasn’t been a national action plan. I’m hurt for the, you know, for the family members. They have gone through the national inquiry, given their testimonies, their stories of exactly what has been happening, and I don’t believe that we’ve been heard. We’ve been doing the best that we can with the tools that we have that are national, to be able to support. But no, I’m very disappointed that we haven’t a national action plan.

Mercedes Stephenson: Late last week, we heard about a police shooting of a young Indigenous woman, Chantel Moore in New Brunswick. The police were going—the RCMP specifically—to do a wellness check on her. They ended up shooting her and killing her. What are your thoughts on that incident?

Lorraine Whitman, President of the Native Women’s Association: I’m absolutely horrified, you know, to learn of this young lady’s death and the killing that had taken place by a police officer in Edmonston, New Brunswick. And again, this just reminds me, again, it brings up how much needed resources and services that we need.

Mercedes Stephenson: What did you think when you heard the government say: Well, COVID-19 is delaying our response to dealing with the report?

Lorraine Whitman, President of the Native Women’s Association: I’m sorry, but I have to same that’s a very lame excuse. It holds no water in my mind. There was nine full good months that they could have been working on it for a document, just one start so that we could start the process, and if we—and it’s taken seriously. I don’t think they’re listening enough to us because it’s still happening. And we need to be out there and we need to help our women. So no, that excuse does not hold water with me.

Mercedes Stephenson: What does systemic racism mean for Indigenous women and girls in Canada? What are the results? What is at stake here with addressing those fundamental issues in the system?

Lorraine Whitman, President of the Native Women’s Association: Is what’s happening is what’s happened again. The systemic issue, the violence, the colonialism, where it goes back and this is what’s happening. We do not have services that are there to be able to assist our women, our girls, and we need to be able to be at the forefront. We need to be included in the negotiations so that we can help. We have given our recommendations to the government so that they will be able to see the view that we have. We work on the front line. We have PTMA’s in every province and territory. They’re familiar with what’s happening with our Indigenous women, and we need to be there and to show support for the women, the girls, the gender diverse and the support of the families.

Mercedes Stephenson: What goes through your mind when you see these mass protests in the United States and the hope that this will be a moment of change for that country? And up here, we are talking about racism against Indigenous people, but it seems to be happening as a result of the discussion about the U.S. rather than leading the discussion up here.

Lorraine Whitman, President of the Native Women’s Association: You know, the Indigenous women, we’re all watching and we’re interested in what’s happening in the States. And where my heart goes is for the parents, the mothers, when they know that their child has gone out and the systemic racism and sexism that’s out there. They’re saying is that—is my daughter going to be coming home or my son? Are they going to be picked up by the police? Are they going to be hurt by the police? Are they going to be kidnapped? This all goes through the mother’s heart and their spirit. And we need to be out there and be able to support, because this is truly discrimination and racism and it has to stop. You know, we’ve got to let—we have to give peace, and we need to be able to work together. And we can’t if this racism and discrimination is fuelled.

Mercedes Stephenson: Lorraine, what are the top—

Lorraine Whitman, President of the Native Women’s Association: It’s terrible.

Mercedes Stephenson: One or two things that you think the government needs to do right now, to help Indigenous women and girls?

Lorraine Whitman, President of the Native Women’s Association: First of all, there has to be an action plan. There needs to be a plan so that we can move in a progressive way. There also needs to be inclusion of the organization, of the women’s group. We need to be included in those plans so that we meet the needs of our women, our girls and our gender diverse. We also need sustainable dollars so that we will be able to support our women with the means that they so desire. You know, proposal dollars are just band aid projects, and it goes and then there’s an end to it. We need it to continue, because this just isn’t going to heal in a year or two. This goes way back to colonialism and there’s so much healing that needs to be done. And we need dollars for resiliency centres. We need the health. We need, you know, the support to be able to help heal ourselves. And funding is so crucial. And we need, first of all, to be listened. We need to be heard, because we have given what we could do.

Mercedes Stephenson: Lorraine, thank you so much for joining us. We will check in with you again soon on this very important issue.

Lorraine Whitman, President of the Native Women’s Association: Thank you for having me and take care.

Mercedes Stephenson: Thank you.

Up next: Calls for the government to prioritize seniors in long-term care homes in advance of a possible explosive second wave of COVID-19.

Story continues below advertisement

Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer: “Long-term care and assisted living homes have been hit the hardest, with more than 900 separate outbreaks, accounting for about 18 per cent of confirmed cases and 82 per cent of all deaths?”

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. That was Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam.

In Ontario, the provincial government and some hospitals have taken over management of a number of long-term care facilities in the province in the wake of COVID-19 mismanagement in those homes. And now the Long-term Care Association is asking the government to do even more ahead of a possible second wave.

Joining me now is the CEO of the Ontario Long-term Care Association Donna Duncan. Welcome back to the show, Donna.

Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long-term Care Association: Good morning, Mercedes. Good to be back.

Mercedes Stephenson: Donna, I want to start with asking you about this report that we saw from the military because we haven’t had a chance to speak to you since that came out. It documented some absolutely abhorrent conditions and treatment in some of these homes. What was your reaction to that report?

Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long-term Care Association: Pretty much like everybody else. You know, you read those—those words and you can see just how dire the circumstances were when the military went in on April 15th. It’s horrific to look at that. Certainly my heart goes out to the families and the residents in those homes. And that’s what dire looked like. We knew that there were homes that were in complete distress and I think it’s really tragic that it came to that, but it had to take military going in to actually go in and then stabilize them.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that the management and the ownership of some of these homes should be held responsible for those conditions?

Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long-term Care Association: In Ontario, we are going to have a commission and inquiry and certainly our association has supported that. We don’t—we have zero tolerance for abuse and neglect. There is no room for that. I think we’ve got to really understand what the root causes are, what we actually need to do to fix the system, and in large part, we know what those issues are. These homes were the most dire. We know that they were in hot spots, so where there is a lot of social spread, we know that they had critical, critical staffing level issues in many case. And actually, among the first five that the military went in, their staffing levels had been reduced by 80 per cent. So only 20 per cent of their staff was actually there, and those who were left were clearly, clearly struggling to sustain and maintain the homes. The other issues were PPE, the ability to cohort residents because of the age of the building, shared washrooms. We have a lot of structural problems that certainly these reports have shone a light on, and we do need to get out ahead of this as quickly as possible as we prepare for a second wave.

Mercedes Stephenson: There are people who are saying there’s problems with staffing, there’s problems with paying the workers enough, but some of these homes were clearing over $100 million a year in profit. Why would they not be spending some of that profit to look after the residents who are helping to pay in and make that very profit?

Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long-term Care Association: So, you know, certainly, we’ve seen that ownership hasn’t been a factor in this. I can’t speak to the business decisions or the operating decisions that leaders make. We know that certainly among our larger members, and we represent non-profit members as well and some municipal homes, certainly what we are seeing is they have stepped up in many different ways in terms of securing PPE for the system and the sector, and for small operators they’ve certainly been out there. They’ve created a fund to support staff that has been disadvantaged by this. But our issue is what are the root causes that we actually have to be focussed on right now, and that is PPE, testing, looking at alternate accommodation and making sure that we’re able to cohort dealing with some of the interim structural issues that we have in the homes that we know create greater risk as well as preparing to recruit a new army to replace the military and hospital employees who are about to leave.

Mercedes Stephenson: Donna, that’s part of what we wanted to talk about today because you’re warning that long-term care homes aren’t ready for a second wave of COVID. Why is that? And what are the potential consequences of them being unable to handle yet another wave?

Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long-term Care Association: So we heard last week, Dr. Tam, talking about the potential of an explosive second wave if we don’t social distance and if we’re not cautious about how we open up. We know that our frail seniors, especially those in their 80s and 90s are the absolute most vulnerable people to us. Not just in Ontario and Canada but around the world. Certainly, you know, one of the things that we were very proud of in our system is that 80 per cent of our long-term care homes have kept COVID-19 out of it. They haven’t had any outbreaks and we need to make sure that that continues. And we know—we know what works. April 15th, the Government of Ontario launched an action plan, so prioritizing long-term care for personal protective equipment (PPE): masks, gowns, gloves. We know that there continue to be significant supply chain issues, especially with regard to masks and gowns. We need to get out ahead of that and make sure that our homes are well supplied across the country, not just in Ontario. We need rapid testing. The federal government is responsible for approving tests.

Mercedes Stephenson: And Donna, I know there’s an ask from the province for the military to stay. We’ll see if that happens, but that’s all the time we have for today. Thank you for joining us.

Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long-term Care Association: Thank you, Mercedes. Be safe.

Mercedes Stephenson: Thank you.

Well, that is all the time we have for The West Block today, too. Thank you for joining us. We’ll see you right here, next week. Have a great day.


Sponsored content