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‘A tragedy’: Trudeau commits to fight racism on anniversary of George Floyd’s murder

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WATCH: Trudeau commits to fighting racism in Canada on anniversary of George Floyd’s death – May 25, 2021

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reaffirmed his commitment to address anti-Black racism and injustice on Tuesday, as advocates around the world marked the one-year anniversary of the death of George Floyd.

Floyd, a Black man, was killed in Minneapolis one year ago after then-officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for 9 1/2 minutes. Chauvin was later convicted of murder, while three other fired officers are awaiting their trials.

Read more: Festivals, vigils and protests across U.S. mark 1 year since George Floyd’s death

The incident set off a firestorm of protests around the world as demonstrators called for leaders to tackle systemic racism within law enforcement bodies, including in Canada.

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George Floyd’s family reacts to federal charges against Derek Chauvin, former officers – May 8, 2021

Speaking Tuesday, Trudeau acknowledged the ongoing issue.

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“Mr. Floyd’s death was a tragedy,” he said, speaking to reporters during a press conference.

“And it was a reminder that there are still too many people living with anti-Black racism and injustice, including here in Canada.”

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Optimism and skepticism about progress on racial justice one year after George Floyd’s murder – May 25, 2021

He said the government has taken action after Canadians “marched to demand change” last summer, including establishing the Black Entrepreneurship Program and proposing to remove “ineffective” mandatory minimums from the Criminal Code.

“Our government is working with Black communities across the country to make sure nobody is left behind,” he said.

“We will continue to take real action to fight systemic racism and create more opportunities for Black Canadians, and for everyone.”

Read more: Canadians urged Trudeau to address police racism after George Floyd murder, emails show

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The weeks following Floyd’s murder shone a spotlight on systemic discrimination in Canada’s law enforcement institutions, prompting many protesters and experts alike to call on the government to defund the police.

“I think it’s unfortunate we’ve come to a place in our society that police become first responders to people who are experiencing a mental health crisis,” said Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, in an interview with The Canadian Press last June.

“What we should do is take back that money, to defund police, and give it over to mental health professionals who are better equipped to help these people.”

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Report finds perceptions of racial bias persist in criminal justice system – Feb 15, 2021

The discussions about defunding grew louder following some high-profile incidents of violent interactions with police. In June of 2020, dashcam footage came out that showed the violent arrest of Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

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The 12-minute video showed Adam — who was shouting profanities — walking between his car and a police cruiser. An RCMP officer suddenly charged at Adam, tackling him to the ground and punching him in the head.

The RCMP initially declared the officer’s actions reasonable, though later launched an investigation into the incident.

The same month the dashcam footage of Adam’s arrest emerged, RCMP officers in New Brunswick killed Rodney Levi, a 48-year-old man from Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation. His death was just a few weeks after another local police agency killed Chantel Moore of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.

Read more: Trudeau’s government has a plan to tackle racism in the RCMP. Experts say it won’t work

When pressed about the possibility of defunding the police at the time, Trudeau did not rule it out.

“I think there are many different paths toward making a better country. We need to explore the range of them,” he said at the time.

Since then, however, Trudeau has not signalled any interest in pursuing the calls to defund the police. While the government’s throne speech in the fall directly addressed plans to tackle anti-Black racism and discrimination, it did not mention the possibility of defunding the police.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also weighed in on the anniversary of Floyd’s murder on Tuesday.

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“At the time, what we witnessed collectively was one of the most brutal, widely-shared capturing of a Black man being killed by police,” Singh said.

“We weren’t insulated in Canada — we saw that police were responsible for the deaths of Canadians, in Canada, as well.”

Click to play video: 'Rev. Al Sharpton, NYC mayor kneel for 9 minutes 29 seconds on 1st anniversary of George Floyd’s death' Rev. Al Sharpton, NYC mayor kneel for 9 minutes 29 seconds on 1st anniversary of George Floyd’s death
Rev. Al Sharpton, NYC mayor kneel for 9 minutes 29 seconds on 1st anniversary of George Floyd’s death – May 25, 2021

Singh added that while Trudeau knelt with the protesters, he does not think the prime minister has taken enough action in the year since.

“The material conditions for Indigenous, or Black, or racialized people has not changed. Their experiences when it comes to the police has not changed,” Singh said.

“A year later, after that horrible incident spurred so much positive action and activism, demanding for justice, demanding that this end, Justin Trudeau failed to do that. And I want to note that, that that is wrong,” Singh said.

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“There needs to be action.”

Speaking Tuesday, Trudeau said the government’s efforts to tackle systemic racism are ongoing.

“Our government is working with Black communities across the country to make sure nobody is left behind,” he said.

— with files from The Canada Press, Global News’ Jane Gerster

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