Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blamed a province – later identified as Quebec – for the fact a joint statement against racism issued this week did not include the term “systemic racism.”
The “statement on anti-racism” issued by Ottawa and all provincial governments on Thursday included a joint commitment to take action against racism, but stayed clear of the term that is increasingly used to signal a desire to attack the roots of inequalities and discrimination.
“There was not a consensus on using the phrase ‘systemic discrimination’ or ‘systemic racism,’” Mr. Trudeau said at a news conference on Friday.
He said he did not want to divulge the identity of any province that objected to the inclusion of the term, but said the debate over language “highlights how much work there remains to be done across the country in the fight against systemic racism.”
“I have been crystal clear that the federal government recognizes it in order to be able to better address it,” he said.
There has been much resistance among Quebec politicians and commentators to the use of the term “systemic racism,” with many of them stating it implies the existence of widespread racism among individual Quebeckers.
A spokesman for the government of Premier François Legault said Quebec City will not budge from its position.
“We do not believe in the existence of systemic racism in Quebec. Yes, racism exists in Quebec, as in any other society, but it is not true that Quebec has put in place, consciously or not, a system to exclude and discriminate against people,” said Ewan Sauves.
Mr. Sauves added the priority is to fight racism and discrimination, which explains the government’s creation this month of a working group on the matter that is made up of five MNAs and two ministers.
“This is not the time to debate which words to use,” Mr. Sauves said.
Experts such as Senator Murray Sinclair have said that people are wrong to interpret systemic racism as a statement that everyone is racist in a given system. “Systemic racism is when the system itself is based upon and founded upon racist beliefs and philosophies and thinking and has put in place policies and practices that literally force even the non-racists to act in a racist way,” he said this month.
Thursday’s joint statement said that first ministers are “determined to combat [racism, discrimination, intolerance and bigotry], including anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, and anti-Asian racism and hate, as well as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.”
Other provincial governments said they did not object to the use of the term in the statement.
“There is systemic racism,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said.
He added the statement had been in the works for weeks and that it’s time for a concrete response to the problem of racism.
“I know the Prime Minister wants action, too, but all the premiers are saying enough of the talking. Let’s start getting action, get things in place and start moving forward,” Mr. Ford said.
Christine Myatt, a spokeswoman for Jason Kenney, said the Alberta Premier “did not object to the term being included in the first ministers’ declaration.”
Jim Billington, a spokesman for Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, said: “Saskatchewan acknowledges systemic racism and had no concerns regarding inclusion in the joint statement.”
With reports from Laura Stone, Kelly Cryderman, James Keller and Greg Mercer
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