A Canadian political party leader, who is a man of colour, was forced out of the country’s House of Commons on Wednesday for calling a white politician’s dismissive behaviour racist.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was proposing reforms for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to address a legacy of systemic racism and Indigenous deaths at the hands of police nationwide. Bloc Quebecois MP Alain Therrien dismissed the motion and used a hand gesture to symbolically bat Singh away, the NDP leader said.
Singh then called Therrien racist, which prompted the acting house speaker, NDP MP for Algoma-Manitoulin, Carol Hughes, to expel Singh.
In an emotional press conference following the event, Singh said he felt angry at first.
“But I’m sad now because why can’t we act? Why can’t we do something to save people’s lives?” he said.
Therrien did not respond to VICE requests for comment by the time of publication. Following Singh’s expulsion, Bloc Quebecois, a separatist party from Quebec, said it supports a review of systemic racism in the RCMP and acknowledges that anti-Indigenous and other forms of racism are a major problem. Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet is demanding an apology from Singh over the incident.
Singh’s motion recommended a review of funds allocated to the federal police force, the redistribution of responsibilities from police to healthcare workers when healthcare crises are reported, as well as a review of the use of force by police and the implementation of de-escalation tactics.
When Hughes first attempted to verify whether Singh did, in fact, call Therrien a racist, Singh quickly responded in French and said, “It’s true. I called him a racist.”
Then, Singh was kicked out.
The news of Singh’s expulsion comes about a week after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged that systemic racism is inherent in the RCMP.
Singh’s experience represents “a typical example of systemic racism and institutional discrimination” and could have pretty serious consequences, said York University sociology professor Cary Wu, who specializes in race and immigration.
When Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) see situations like this play out, their trust in political institutions crumbles, Wu said, which is why time and time again Black and Indigenous peoples have reported low trust in police and governments across North America.
Low trust typically results in lower voter turnout and political participation as well, Wu said. That means, the more Black, Indigenous, and people of colour see people like them getting reprimanded for calling out racism, the less likely they’ll participate in democracy.
Racialized immigrants and refugees who don’t feel like their citizenship status is safe yet will likely feel the consequences even harder, Wu said, adding that immigrants may be less likely to voice sadness or anger towards systemic racism if they fear doing so will cost them their lives in Canada.
In Canada, “when BIPOC folks name racism they're often punished, like Jagmeet Singh,” tweeted OmiSoore Dryden, an assistant professor of community health at Dalhousie. Dryden added that Therrien should have been punished instead and used the hashtag #ThisIsHowRacismWorks.
Another BIPOC academic tweeted in support of Singh and said, “How many of us have been shooed? No more.”
As in the U.S., Canada has reported several alleged and confirmed cases of police brutality that have resulted in Black and Indigenous injuries and deaths and there have been widespread calls to defund the police.
The RCMP is currently experiencing backlash following violent arrests that implicated Indigenous peoples. In Nunavut, a video shows how an RCMP officer rammed his car door into an Inuk man before making an arrest. Alberta RCMP dashcam footage shows an officer jump tackling and punching Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam.
Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi, two Indigenous peoples living in New Brunswick, were also killed by police this month, and in April, three Indigenous peoples were killed by officers in Winnipeg within a span of 10 days.
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