OTTAWA—There are no excuses.
The way NDP MP Matthew Green sees it, the Liberal minority government must swiftly fulfil the entire list of demands in a sweeping declaration from Black parliamentarians that charts reforms to address systemic racism in Canada.
After all, the document was signed by more than 100 Liberal MPs, including Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and 25 other Liberal cabinet ministers. A failure to act now — after anti-racism protests swept the country and around the world during a global pandemic — would be “a broken promise” to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s own caucus and people across the country, Green said.
“I demand the government move on all of these things. We spent painstaking time, crafting and drafting this statement, representing over 140 members — including members of his cabinet,” said Green, a New Democrat from Hamilton who was invited to join the eight-member Parliamentary Black Caucus by Liberal MP Greg Fergus after the 2019 federal election.
“What we demonstrate in this historic document is the political will for it to happen immediately,” he said.
Released Tuesday, the declaration contains a wide range of demands for reform to “minimize the consequences of systemic racism” in Canada on Black, Indigenous and other racialized people. They include calls to purge mandatory minimum jail sentences from the Canadian justice system; create programs to support businesses owned by Black Canadians; increase the number of Black and Indigenous judges; and shift spending from police budgets to health and social-service experts.
RCMP spending has increased by more than 32 per cent since 2015, the year the Trudeau government took power, and clocked in at $ 3.8 billion last year, according to data published by the federal Treasury Board.
Speaking to reporters outside his residence at Rideau Cottage on Tuesday, Trudeau did not endorse the declaration signed by more than half his cabinet ministers. But he said the government is working with community groups and the Parliamentary Black Caucus to decide how it will move to address racism in policing and other government institutions.
Trudeau has already called for more police officers to wear body cameras to document interactions with the public. And his government has pledged to introduce a new law that would declare Indigenous policing an “essential service” so more communities could have their own law enforcement.
“We are committed to moving forward on a huge range of measures,” Trudeau said Tuesday.
“I think it’s really important that we all come forward and look at all the ideas that we can take on very soon to fix the systemic discrimination that continues to exist in our country.”
Sen. Rosemary Moodie, who is part of the Black parliamentary group that drafted the declaration, told the Star she believes cabinet ministers signed as individuals and that she doesn’t expect the government to fulfil the entire list of demands. But, she added: “it is clear they want to act as soon as possible and I hope this brings pressure on (the Prime Minister’s Office) to do more than has been done.
“The prime minister has yet to show if he is truly serious. I hope he is,” she said.
The declaration includes a number of measures the government could take right away, Green said. They include ordering the RCMP to collect and release data on the race of people the police interact with and use force on, and create a parliamentary committee on the elimination of discrimination in Canada.
Fergus, a Liberal MP from Quebec who also sits on the Black caucus, told the Star he was “delighted” to hear Trudeau’s pledge to action that will build on previous measures the Liberal government has taken to address racism in Canada. These include allowing the United Nations to study anti-Black racism in Canada in 2017, and measures in subsequent budgets to support Black Canadians, he said.
“I’m just glad to see that there is now a real public cry for us to take further steps to making sure we can create the Canada we want and we all hold dear in our hearts,” he said.
“ I am hoping there will be a suite of actions that are taken…We really felt that these were a series of important actions that would need to be taken in a balanced way.”
Emmanuel Dubourg, another Liberal MP and member of the Black caucus, told the Star that there is no deadline for the government to fulfil the list of demands in the declaration, and that the prime minister has already shown he is willing to act to tackle discrimination.
“The death of George Floyd, it’s a wake-up call,” said Dubourg, referring to the Black man who died in the United States after a police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while he struggled and said he couldn’t breathe. “We are ready to go further, and we need to go further.”
Work on the declaration began about two weeks ago, with the Black caucus drafting the declaration informed by demands for change from community groups, the MPs said.
In the weeks since, a series of incidents in Canada fuelled demonstrations across the country. They include the deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who died when she fell from an apartment balcony during a police wellness check in Toronto. Two Indigenous people in New Brunswick — Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi — were fatally shot by police in recent days as well.
“It became clear that we needed to set a very clear direction,” said Green.
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While the declaration was signed by most Liberal, NDP and Green MPs — as well as several independent senators — no Conservative or Bloc Québécois members endorsed it.
Green said the statement wasn’t circulated to those parties because they have never shown an interest in the work of the Black caucus.
In an email Tuesday, Kelsie Chiasson, a spokesperson for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, accused the Liberals of “playing disgusting partisan games with a serious issue.
“Conservatives acknowledge the existence of systemic racism in Canada; we condemn it and support calls to eliminate it,” she wrote.