Written for Daily Hive by Mo Amir, host and producer of the podcast This is VANCOLOUR, based in Vancouver.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took a knee at an anti-racism protest on Parliament Hill earlier this month, he was immediately criticized for “performative allyship” from the federal New Democratic Party. The prime minister’s symbolism may be powerful, but it could ultimately be remembered as a cynical headline-grab if the Trudeau government does not confront its Cabinet’s past and its policy agenda’s future.
“You’re the prime minister of Canada. You don’t need to take a knee. You need to take a stand,” says Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the NDP, unimpressed by the prime minister’s demonstration. “Why don’t you just do some of the things that we need, like immediate changes?”
One of the most problematic aspects of the prime minister’s show of solidarity in a protest against the over-policing of Black and Indigenous peoples is his chosen Minister of Public Safety, Bill Blair. As the chief of the Toronto Police Service from 2005 to 2015, Blair’s legacy as Toronto’s top cop included instituting, overseeing, and defending the practice of “carding,” which disproportionately targeted racialized people.
In Singh’s own words, carding is the practice “where police were told, ‘Go out and stop as many racialized people in communities, anyone who looks suspicious to you,’ — and everyone who looked suspicious happened to be Black and racialized — ‘and fill out cards on them.’ This was a tactic that the Police Chief [Blair] was proud of.”
🔊VOLUME UP🔊@theJagmeetSingh explains the hollowness of PM Trudeau’s support for last week’s protest… underscored by the Minister of Public Safety’s policing record.
— Mo Amir ॐ This is VANCOLOUR (@vancolour) June 10, 2020
In 2014, carding ended in Toronto after the Ontario Human Rights Commission ordered the Toronto Police Services Board to stop the practice due to the over-representation of Black Canadians being issued contact cards. The carding stops were also deemed as unreasonable and intimidatory. Blair, however, not only defended carding after the OHRC’s order, but he even resisted the reforms to change the practice.
“It’s bizarre that not only did Prime Minister Trudeau make [Blair] a cabinet member, make him a minister, but made him the minister to oversee the policing of Canada. That’s pretty ironic,” says Singh.
While he notes this irony in the prime minister’s presence at the anti-racism protest, Singh defends his own participation in a similar protest in Toronto.
“I went to show up at an important rally to meet with people, to hear them out. I want to show solidarity. But, I mean, it’s different when you’re the prime minister. You’ve got a bigger responsibility than showing solidarity. You can actually make the changes needed.”
In fact, Singh offers his party’s support to Trudeau’s minority government to enact the type of changes being demanded for in the protests.
“I am more than willing, in fact pushing for those changes, so [Prime Minister Trudeau has] got someone who can actually help get it done.”
As the federal government is responsible for policing powers through agencies such as the RCMP, CSIS, and CBSA, Singh notes several legislative changes that the Trudeau government could bring into law immediately. These include the ends to arbitrary detention, racial profiling, and harsh sentencing rules that disproportionately target Indigenous and Black people for non-violent crimes and minor infractions on bail conditions.
Singh also points to the Trudeau government’s proposed crackdown on Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) fraud that may result in jail time for those who collected CERB but did not meet the requirements due to minor technicalities. These technicalities include people who collected CERB while having earned just below the $5,000 income threshold in the past year or those who were offered a job that was no longer available due to the COVID-19 crisis.
“We know that when you put in a new criminal offence, it’s going to disproportionately impact Black and Indigenous and racialized people, and poor people. So on one side, he was taking a knee and on the other side, he was writing a law that was actually going to put more Black and Brown and Indigenous people in jail. That, to me, is just unreal.”
While Singh does not advocate for the abolition of police, he calls for “reprioritizing” police funding. He points to the cases of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, D’Andre Campbell, and Chantel Moore — three cases of police wellness checks or mental health issues — which each resulted in death at the hands of police. The presence of professional healthcare workers or mental health workers to help take on these calls may have prevented these deaths.
“Let’s take our money and use it in a way that’s best for communities. It’s not actually the best way to spend money, by putting it into the police. In many cases, it’s actually the wrong approach.”
Singh’s proposal amounts to “reprioritizing [police] funding and putting more money into making communities safer” through more affordable housing, expanded healthcare services, better access to employment and education, and increased social programs.
“Our goal is to make communities safer. If there’s a better way to do it, let’s do that, instead of going down the same path that has not shown to work. That’s really what people are asking for.”
If that, indeed, is what the protestors are asking for, then it would seem incumbent on the prime minister to pass the type of legislative action on policing reform that Singh has outlined — presuming, of course, that the prime minister was sincere when he took the knee.
Otherwise, Trudeau’s show of solidarity with protestors will ultimately be proven to be performative and hypocritical, as critiqued by Jagmeet Singh and the NDP.
Have a listen to the full This is VANCOLOUR podcast with NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh: