As thousands of Canadians march against police brutality, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called for more than what he called “pretty words” from the Liberal government when it comes to dealing with systemic racism.
“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,” he said in an interview with Global News Ottawa Bureau Chief Mercedes Stephenson on Sunday’s episode of The West Block.
“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.”
Singh has urged the federal government to end racial profiling and the over-policing and over-incarceration of Black and Indigenous communities in Canada.
While the federal government doesn’t have oversight over municipal police forces, Ottawa does hold “a lot of power over the federally regulated policing services,” like the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency, Singh said.
“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,” he said.
The government can also take action on mandatory minimum sentences, which he said have had a disproportionate impact on Indigenous and Black Canadians in some cases. Judges, he said, could be given more discretion — and consider the role of systemic racism in exercising that discretion.
He also said there should be less incarceration, favouring more rehabilitative options and in-community sentences.
Liberal MP Bardish Chagger, the minister of diversity and inclusion, said it’s clear that “a lot more needs to be done” to tackle racism.
“When it comes to systemic racism, it exists in Canada,” she said.
“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.”
When asked about what concrete actions the federal government was willing to take, she spoke of the government’s commitment to obtaining demographically segregated data, which can be used to collect information from different clusters of people.
She specifically referenced the efforts of the COVID-19 taskforce.
“We have a commitment from provinces and territories to be collecting that information so that we can make decisions based on science and evidence,” she said.
The federal government has also allocated $45 million for an Anti-Racism Strategy that will support community projects geared towards “combatting racism and discrimination.”
Liberal MP Greg Fergus and NDP MP Matthew Green both stressed the importance of race-based data in fighting racism.
“We need to make sure that there is dis-aggregated data. We have to do that at all levels of government so that we can see what the results are, to see if there are changes,” Fergus said.
“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 would be a gift that will keep on giving to improve the place of reducing anti-Black racism in this country.”
In Toronto, Black people are 20 times more likely to be killed by police than those of other races, Green said, quoting a finding from Ontario’s Human Rights Commission report in 2018.
Green said race-based, segregated statistics counter what he called the “very maple-washed version of Canada.”
“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,” he said.
–With files from Kerri Breen