Former Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe says NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is playing “cheap politics” with his criticism that the separatist party’s leader in the House of Commons is a “racist” for not supporting Singh’s motion condemning systemic racism in the RCMP.
In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Duceppe said Singh was wrong to call Bloc Quebecois House Leader Alain Therrien racist for denying unanimous consent to the motion, which called on members of the House of Commons to recognize systemic racism in the police force.
The motion Singh proposed also called for a review of the RCMP budget and a review of the use of force by its members, along with a review of the law governing the national force.
It required unanimous consent from all members in order to move forward to debate, but Therrien denied that consent. Singh then called him a racist and refused to apologize, leading to his ejection from the House of Commons for using unparliamentary language.
“I don’t understand at all Jagmeet Singh calling Therrien a racist. In Quebec, it’s not supported at all but the NDP is largely absent in Quebec,” said Duceppe when asked about the matter.
“The only thing he wanted to do was get more support in the rest of Canada,” he continued.
“I think that was cheap politics from Jagmeet Singh. It won’t help him in Quebec, and neither Trudeau by the way.”
Global News reached out to Singh’s team asking whether he wanted to respond to Duceppe’s comments so his voice could be included at the time of publication.
No response has yet been received.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended Singh last week, saying it’s not the place for white members of Parliament to question the only racialized leader of a federal party on what he thinks is racism.
“In regards to what Mr. Singh said, it is not for me to criticize any Canadian, particularly the only racialized leader in the House of Commons, for making other people uncomfortable by calling them out for not recognizing systemic discrimination,” Trudeau said.
“It remains problematic that the Bloc Québécois refuses to recognize systemic racism in the RCMP and this country.”
Duceppe said that’s not true and that the party is supporting a push to have the public safety committee launch a study on systemic racism in the RCMP.
Their concern, he said, was that Singh’s motion declared the existence of systemic racism in the RCMP before that committee could even begin that work.
Singh was visibly emotional in a press conference arranged quickly following his ejection from the House of Commons last week.
“I was angry at the moment and I stand by it,” he said of his comment. “In that moment, I saw the face of racism.”
Duceppe said he wasn’t sure whether Singh was faking his emotions.
“I don’t know if it was genuine or not but it was plain stupid,” he said.
He also said while there is systemic racism in Quebec, that also exists in the rest of Canada and no one else should tell Quebeckers the best way to move forward.
“There is systematic racism in Quebec but we certainly don’t have to take lessons from the rest of Canada,” Duceppe continued.
Singh’s motion came amid a swell of global anti-racism movements.
The death of George Floyd, a Black 46-year-old American man, in Minnesota on May 25 galvanized global protests against systemic racism, including major scrutiny of police violence against racialized people.
Floyd died during an arrest after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Solidarity protests quickly spread across Canada and have become a much broader protest and national dialogue about the harmful impacts of systemic racism on Black and Indigenous people in Canada.
The RCMP, in particular, has come under fire for accusations of excessive force in multiple encounters with Indigenous people.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said last week she was “struggling” with the definition of systemic racism and how it applied to the force, but was forced to state clearly in a subsequent public statement following backlash that it does in fact exist in the RCMP.
In a separate interview on The West Block, Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal, who is the only Indigenous member of cabinet, said he understands the frustrations so many are feeling right now.
He said there are no easy answers for the government on how best to tackle systemic racism in Canada, but that it needs to do more than is happening now.
“The frustration is, it’s not a new issue. The frustration is, there’s not a simple solution,” he said, while pointing out that reports like those from the Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls provides a “roadmap.”
“We need to go back to those reports and make sure those calls to action are implemented. That’s something our government is doing but we need to put added vigor into that exercise.”
Vandal said part of the difficulty in moving forward will be changing people’s minds, saying that, “the actual foundation of racism is people’s attitudes, people’s values, the way people think, and that’s harder to change.”
And while he said working together to find solutions is critical, Vandal added that not acknowledging racism will only hurt the efforts to find a way forward.
“I think if you refuse to acknowledge that systemic racism exists, you certainly do not have an open mind to address this issue,” he said.
“I think by refusing to acknowledge that systemic racism exists, you are exhibiting racist behavior.”