Canadian politician Jagmeet Singh was asked to leave a session in Canadian parliament after he refused to apologise for calling the opposition racist.
Singh is Sikh, and the leader of the New Democrat Party – a leftwing political party in Canada (to the left of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, who are currently in power). He is the only leader of a political party in Canada who is a person of colour, and has been outspoken about issues around race in Canada.
Canadian parliament was back in session this week – in the House of Commons, Singh put forward a motion calling on parliament to acknowledge how systemic racism was present and prevalent in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police force.
Alain Therrien, from the Bloc Quebecois Party – a party of Quebecois separatists who maintain a significant amount of power in the province – declined to support the motion in Parliament.
This motion set out that de-escalation should be a police priority, and that health services should receive more funding. Even though there was broad support from other parties in Canadian parliament – there are about five prominent parties in Canadian government, even though Trudeau’s Liberal Party is in power.
However, the motion needed unanimous consent in order to pass, and Therrien had rejected it. Singh says that Therrien had also made a dismissive hand gesture, and Singh then called Therrien a racist.
The accusation broke the rules of Canadian parliament – when Singh refused to withdraw his comments, Speaker Anthony Rota asked him to leave for the rest of the day, and to return on Thursday.
Singh posted a video from a news conference on Twitter later the same day, clarifying the reasons why he put forward this motion and why he thought it was necessary.
He cited the deaths of black people at the hands of police in the USA, but he also pointed out that Canada’s police force and government have their own history of ignoring the deaths of black and indigenous people in Canada too.
In the video, he says, “I was shocked that anyone would say no to this motion.”
“I looked back and I saw that MP not only say no, but make eye contact with me, and just kind of brush his hand, dismiss it.”
Singh admits he got angry, and asks, “Why can’t we act? Why can’t we do something to save people’s lives?”
The Bloc Quebecois party then tweeted to ask Singh to apologise for his remarks, which they said ‘tarnished’ Therrien’s reputation. When Singh returned to ask questions during a special committee meeting on Covid-19 on Wednesday, MPs from the Bloc Quebecois party asked why he was still allowed to be asking questions – given that he hadn’t apologised – and three proceeded to leave the proceedings after Singh was allowed to continue.
The Bloc Quebecois Party has become increasingly controversial in the last year - during the 2019 election, the leader of the party urged voters to “vote for people who looked like them”, and has long supported the controversial Quebecois secularism law (a ban on religious symbols and coverings in the public sector).
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the incident in a press conference on Thursday, saying, “It is important that we recognise when the only racialised leader in the House of Commons makes a statement like that, that it comes from a place that yes, will make people uncomfortable, but needs to be dealt with as we move forward as a country.”