“I was angry at the moment and I stand by it,” Singh told a hastily arranged news conference.
“In that moment, I saw the face of racism.”
Singh had asked the Commons to recognize there is systemic racism in the RCMP and to call on the government to review the police force’s budget, ensure the Mounties are truly accountable, examine the Mounties’ use of force, and boost non-police spending on mental health and addiction support.
There was at least one objection that derailed the move, though it was unclear who said no.
The Speaker asked Singh to apologize for calling Bloc MP Alain Therrien racist, but the NDP leader refused.
For its part, the Bloc said it declined to endorse the NDP motion because it was supporting a Commons public safety committee study of RCMP racism, which it considers a major issue. The party did not want to handcuff the committee before its work had even begun.
Bloc MP Claude DeBellefeuille came to Therrien’s defence, saying the NDP was treating her colleague as “a racist person, which is unacceptable in the House of Commons.
The Speaker asked Singh to apologize but he refused.
In a statement late Wednesday, DeBellefeuille said in French that Singh slandered Therrien with an “unjustified insult” and called for the NDP leader to apologize “immediately.”
Asked whether the Bloc thought it was appropriate that one of its MPs blocked the NDP motion, DeBellefeuille said her party supported a request that the Commons public safety committee study the existence of systemic racism in the RCMP, but thinks it’s “inappropriate” to impose conclusions on the committee ahead of the study.
The Bloc is “convinced” that discrimination against Indigenous communities and other minority groups is “a major issue,” she wrote.
Singh did not back down when asked about the incident later.
“We had a motion to call out the systemic racism in the RCMP and provide some really clear steps to stop it in the future,” Singh said.
“Anyone who wants to vote against that is a racist, yes.”
Singh said “we’ve got some problems” if the House cannot agree to straightforward steps at a time when the public is decrying police brutality against Indigenous and Black people.
Singh, the first racialized leader of a federal political party in Canada, also said marginalized communities are often told they are not taking the right approach to fighting racism.
“You’re facing inequality and injustice, people are being killed, people are being the subject of violence but you’re not asking the right way for us to change it,” he said. “And to me that’s an absurd argument to put forward.”
The parliamentary dustup followed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s acknowledgment Wednesday that existing systems have failed to adequately address concerns about police behaviour, including in the Mounties.
Asked about the fact it often takes years for the RCMP to act on recommendations from the force’s civilian watchdog, Trudeau said: “We are going to move much quicker on responding to these things, on making changes to our institutions, to really go after systemic discrimination.”
The Green party’s Elizabeth May wants a full inquiry into the RCMP, saying the national police force’s culture of unaccountability must be put under a microscope.
May, the party’s parliamentary leader, rhymed off a list of questions Wednesday morning about RCMP conduct, from deadly confrontations with Indigenous people to slow responses to formal recommendations.
But May told a media briefing the force acts as if it’s above the law in a way that goes beyond any one incident or report.
“The RCMP clearly sees itself as unaccountable,” she said. “One or two tweaking measures around the margins won’t make the difference.”
At his own briefing Wednesday, hours before the sitting in the Commons, Singh also urged more transparency and accountability from the RCMP and other forces.
In particular, Singh said there needs to be improved scrutiny of public complaints about incidents involving police.
“We found that throughout Canada this is an ongoing concern, that the investigations are not conducted in a way where people are left feeling satisfied that it was thorough and that it was independent.”
On Tuesday, Sen. Lillian Dyck called for RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki to resign for failing to understand systemic racism.
Lucki recently stopped short of acknowledging there is entrenched racism in the RCMP, only to agree days later it does exist.
May suggested the RCMP’s problems cannot be remedied by a simple change at the top.
“I don’t want to pin it on any one person because I think it’s cultural.”
She said Lucki could take positive steps now by acting on recommendations from long-standing reports about the policing of Indigenous Peoples.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 17, 2020.
—With a report from Lee Berthiaume at the Canadian Press and a file from Global News’ Beatrice Britneff