Singh calls on Trudeau to address systemic racism in police forces

OTTAWA — If the Rideau Hall intruder had been a person of colour, the outcome of last week's events in Ottawa would have been very different, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Wednesday.

Singh, speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill, said that incident, contrasted with others in recent weeks when police in Canada killed Indigenous people and people of colour during visits to check on their welfare, "reminds us all of how systemic racism is real."

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Military reservist and Manitoba businessman Corey Hurren is in an Ottawa jail facing 22 charges for allegedly carrying weapons and making a threat against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Police say they arrested Hurren early on July 2, about 200 metres from Trudeau's front door, after he allegedly rammed his pickup truck through gates at Rideau Hall and then ran with a loaded gun through the grounds towards Trudeau's residence.

Police say they spoke to Hurren, who was still carrying at least one gun, for an hour and 42 minutes before he was arrested without anyone getting hurt.

Singh said he is thankful for the safety of Trudeau and his family — who were not home at the time — and said he sees the event as an episode of "domestic terrorism."

And when asked if he thought there would not have been a peaceful end to the event if the suspect had been a person of colour, Singh said simply, "Yes."

Singh mentioned Ejaz Choudry, a 62-year-old man who was shot by police in Mississauga, Ont., June 22, after his family called a non-emergency help line out of concern Choudry was not taking his medication. Choudry was diagnosed with schizophrenia, said his family after his death.

"That contrast — someone showed up to potentially kill the prime minister of Canada, or with weapons at his residence, and that person was arrested without any violence and you had a person who in his own home was killed," said Singh. "That to me is what systemic racism in policing is all about, that difference."

Other recent incidents involving police that ended in deaths include:

—Chantel Moore, 26, a First Nations woman who was shot and killed by police called to do a wellness check in Edmundston, N.B., on June 4

—Rodney Levi, a 48-year-old First Nations man struggling with his mental health who was killed by police near Miramichi, N.B. June 12

—Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Black woman from Toronto who died after falling from a 24th-story balcony while police were at the apartment for a family conflict that had left Korchinski-Paquet in distress.

Green party MP Elizabeth May spoke some of their names into the official record of debates for the House of Commons Wednesday as she asked whether it was time to reconsider how so-called "wellness checks" are carried out via a federal inquiry.

Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair suggested that most of the time such incidents end peacefully, but he said the government is working with all levels of government to create national standards on police use of force and de-escalation training.

Last week, RCMP Deputy Commissioner Mike Duheme denied race was a factor in what took place at Rideau Hall.

"Our intervention, regardless of who the person is, is always based on the environment and the threat cues that are being posed," he said. "It's got nothing to do with ethnicity, it's to do with the environment that we're in, the threat that we have, the analysis that the officer is making, the subject's behaviour and whatnot, the environment that's around us for tactical cover."

Singh, though, said Trudeau needs to actually do something to address the issue of systemic racism within the RCMP. He said last fall, when images of Trudeau wearing blackface in multiple old photos emerged, Trudeau asked to be judged by his actions against racism.

Those actions, said Singh, have been nil.

"The most he has done is a vague reference to body cameras," said Singh.

"The fact that President Trump, who has been horrible on this issue, who has said hateful things and I've called him out on that, has done more in terms of a concrete policy change than the prime minister of Canada who says that he is an ally, that to me is really troubling. He's literally done nothing."

In mid-June, as protests erupted all over the United States after George Floyd was killed by a police officer kneeling on his neck in a choke hold, Trump signed an executive order banning the practice unless an officer's life is at risk.

Singh said Trudeau needs to move on specific actions including reviewing the RCMP budget with a view to shifting some resources to community services so police no longer respond to mental health crises as a norm. He also wants data collected on the use of force and a commitment to end racial profiling by police forces.

Shortly after Singh's remarks, Trudeau said his cabinet has set a work plan for the summer to take concrete steps to address systemic racism.

Ministers have been tasked to explore justice reforms, policing structures and use of force; improving access to financial capital; better protections for temporary foreign workers; and developing legislation to recognize First Nations policing as an essential service.

"We have our work cut out for us. We're ready. Fighting systemic racism, unconscious bias and discrimination is a top priority for our government."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 8, 2020.

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