One day after New Democrat candidates in New Brunswick defected to the Green Party over the party’s “electability,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh addressed racism in Canadian politics head-on at a town hall Wednesday night.
Singh, the only person-of-colour running for Prime Minister in next month’s federal election, pledged to ban carding, tackle online racism, and boost funding to hate crime units at a panel organized by the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). As his party struggles to fill its roster ahead of next month’s election, Singh positioned himself as the best candidate to address hate and division in the country, calling out the Green Party for its new members’ statements.
New Brunswick’s Green Party initially announced Tuesday that 14 NDP candidates were defecting to their ranks at both the provincial and federal levels. It was later confirmed that six of those reported candidates are actually staying put.
One former NDP candidate, Jonathan Richardson, told the National Post that in addition to Singh’s low presence in New Brunswick, there’s hesitancy among some potential candidates to run for the NDP because they don’t think that Singh, a practicing Sikh of Indian descent who wears a turban, will attract enough voters in New Brunswick.
“I think the Green Party shouldn’t take in candidates who openly express their concerns about someone looking different,” Singh said Wednesday evening. “The Green Party has a lot to answer for.”
Green leader Elizabeth May later replied by saying that there’s no place for racism in her party, but that Richardson’s comments were taken out of context.
On Wednesday the National Council of Canadian Muslims’ executive director Mustafa Farooq grilled Singh on the rise of far-right extremism and Quebec’s ban on religious symbols for public workers.
Singh said he wants to address an “imbalance” in the way the government approaches national security. He noted that under the Liberals, Public Safety Canada—particularly in their latest threat assessment report—glosses over the threat of white supremacist groups while implicitly “designating the entire Muslim community a security threat.”
In response to a question about the infamous far-right “III%” paramilitary group in Canada, which VICE first uncovered in 2017, Singh said it’s not right that “groups like that are operating freely while Muslim university students across the country are being watched closely by CSIS.”
Singh also criticized both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer for not calling out US President Donald Trump enough for his “divisiveness.”
He said that this divisiveness is the result of politicians exploiting economic insecurity and inequality.
“We need to start looking at some of the root causes of division. And one of the reasons why people are exploited to hate, to fear others is that people are afraid in their own lives,” Singh said.
“There are a lot of people who can’t find housing, who worry about the future, and that insecurity and precarity in their own lives is being exploited by some politicians who are using it to divide us by saying, ‘hey it’s the fault of new Canadians, it’s the fault of refugees, it’s the fault of Muslims.”
Singh said addressing economic inequality is part of the fight against racism. “Make it so people can actually find good housing, can find good quality jobs and can afford to live—then we can weaken the climate of insecurity and fear that allow people to be exploited to increase division,” he said.
Singh was heckled in Mississauga in 2017 by a woman who yelled anti-Muslim accusations at him, asking him whether or not he supports Shariah law. Singh was running for the NDP leadership at the time.
A similar event unfolded this past weekend when Singh’s younger brother Gurratan Singh was accosted by a protester at Mississauga’s annual MuslimFest fair, and asked if he supports "political Islam."
The protester was later identified to be Stephen Garvey, a far-right activist who founded the fringe National Canadian Alliance party.
NCCM is hosting Elizabeth May for their second election town hall Friday evening.
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