Honourable members, I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to the 15th meeting of the House of Commons Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic. This will be a hybrid meeting. Members will be participating via video conference or in person.
I will remind you that in order to avoid issues with sound, members participating in person should not also be connecting by video conference. In order to ensure that those joining the meeting via video conference can be seen and heard by those in the chamber, two screens have been set up here on either side of the Speaker's chair, and members in the chamber can listen to the floor audio or to interpretation using the earpieces on their desks.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name and please direct your remarks through the chair.
For those joining by video conference, I'd like to remind you to leave your microphones on mute when you are not speaking.
Also, please note that if you want to speak in English, you need to be on the English channel for interpretation, and if you want to speak French, you should do so on the French channel. Should you wish to alternate between the two languages, please change to the channel for the language that you happen to be using at the time.
Should members participating by video conference need to request the floor outside their designated speaking times, they should activate their mic and state that they have a point of order. Those in the Chamber can rise in the usual way.
Please note that today's proceedings will be televised in the same way as a typical sitting of the House.
We will now proceed to ministerial announcements.
I invite the Right Hon. Prime Minister to take the floor.
I rise today to address what so many people of colour live with every day.
Over the past few days, we've seen horrific reports of police violence against black men and women south of the border, but these are not isolated incidents or “elsewhere” problems. Prejudice, discrimination and violence are a lived reality for far too many people. They are a result of systems that far too often condone, normalize, perpetrate and perpetuate inequality and injustice against people of colour.
As a country, we are not concerned bystanders simply watching what is happening next door. We are part of it. The calls for justice, for equality and for peace are found echoed in our communities, because anti-black racism is happening here, everywhere in Canada, every single day.
This is something that our own staff, cabinet ministers and colleagues face even in these halls. Over the past few days, I've heard many of these personal stories directly from them. I'm not just talking about acts of violence. I'm also talking about microaggressions, which many of us may not even see. That is the daily reality of far too many racialized Canadians, and it needs to stop.
When it comes to being an ally, I have made serious mistakes in the past, mistakes that I deeply regret and continue to learn from. I want to thank my colleagues, community leaders and fellow Canadians for opening my eyes to what is really going on in our communities and for helping me better understand both privilege and power. I'm not perfect, but not being perfect is not a free pass to not do the right thing. It's not an excuse to not step up, stand up for each other, be an ally.
I know that for so many people listening right now, the last thing you want to hear is another speech on racism from a white politician. I'm not here today to describe a reality I do not know or to speak to a pain I have not felt. I'm here because I want you to know that our government is listening. We hear your calls for justice, equality and accountability. We acknowledge your frustration, your anger, your heartbreak. We see you.
Since coming to office, our government has taken many concrete steps to fight anti-black racism, systemic discrimination and injustice across the country.
We are working directly with the communities and their leaders to close the gaps that persist in Canada. For example, we have provided $9 million to support programs for black Canadian youth. We have made significant investments to enable the Public Health Agency of Canada to provide more mental health services to people who have experienced racism or intergenerational trauma. We are helping community organizations to obtain funding to purchase equipment or lease space. We have also created the anti-racism secretariat, which has an envelope of $4.6 million, to address systemic barriers, such as employment, justice and social participation, that perpetuate injustice.
We have made progress, but we know the work is far from being done.
Over the past five years, our government has worked with communities to recognize and address injustices. We've taken action to support community organizations, invest in better data and fight racism. While we've made some progress, there is still so much more to do, because here are the facts in Canada: Anti-black racism is real. Unconscious bias is real. Systemic discrimination is real. For millions of Canadians, it is their daily, lived reality. The pain and damage it causes are real too.
Mr. Chair, every Canadian who has felt the weight of oppression, every student who has the courage to demand a better future, every person who marches and posts and reads and fights, from Vancouver to Montreal to Halifax, expects more than the status quo. They expect more and deserve better.
The Government of Canada has a lot of work to do, but we're ready. We're ready to work with our opposition colleagues, community leaders and Canadians to make our country a more just and fair place. Racism never has a place in this country, and we will do everything we can to eradicate it from coast to coast to coast.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Over the past week, we have all been affected by the heartbreaking killing of George Floyd in the United States. The video is painful to watch. No one should ever have to plead for help while a crime is being committed, ignored by other members of law enforcement.
The tragedy triggered marches, occupations, protests and, unfortunately, riots. However, I hope it has mostly sparked conversations. Racism is real, painful and unacceptable.
No one should ever feel unsafe because of the colour of their skin, especially around police officers who have a duty and a responsibility to uphold the law for all.
Here in Canada, we are fortunate to live in a country that is welcoming, tolerant and inclusive. Canada was a beacon of freedom to so many escaping slavery during the U.S. Civil War. Our nation has benefited immensely from great Canadians who overcame prejudices and discrimination to serve their communities and make Canada a better country: Lincoln Alexander, elected as a Conservative in 1968, was the first black member of Parliament and went on to become the first black cabinet minister; John Ware was born into slavery in South Carolina but, following the American Civil War, was a leading figure in bringing the first cattle to Alberta and spearheading the ranching industry that would become the backbone of the province; Josiah Henson escaped slavery to become a thriving businessman in Ontario; and of course, Viola Desmond challenged segregation in Nova Scotia.
Black Canadians throughout history have not just built this nation with their contributions; they have also represented Canada with excellence and pride on the world stage, like Harry Jerome, who represented Canada in three Olympic Games and won a bronze medal in 1964. He would go on to become a teacher in British Columbia, once again serving with excellence to try to make a better world for the next generation. Throughout our history, black Canadians have put their lives on the line for their fellow Canadians, bravely serving around the world in our armed forces.
While there are many things we can point to in our history with pride, that is not to say that we have a perfect record, nor that we are immune to the threat of racism or that anti-black racism is just an American problem. Canada has had its own dark episodes of racism that cannot be ignored—sadly, not just in our past. Every day, there are people who experience discrimination or racism in some form.
Throughout this pandemic, we have seen a troubling spike in anti-Asian racism. No one should be attacked in their community or targeted on the bus because of the colour of their skin. Nor should places of worship be broken into and desecrated, like the synagogue in Montreal.
The Conservatives condemn all acts of anti-semitism, racism and discrimination. In a peaceful and free country like Canada, there is absolutely no room for intolerance, racism or extremism of any kind.
But the violence and destruction we have seen in response are not the answer. Millions of people are protesting peacefully across the United States and in Canada, and we must always protect the rights of people who are protesting peacefully and within the law for a just cause and separate them from those who exploit tragedies to commit acts of violence.
Mr. Floyd's brother, Terrence, said that violence will not bring his brother back. Instead, he has called for peace and justice and urged the crowds to educate themselves and to vote. Out of such tragedy, Mr. Chair, that is a powerful message about how each one of us can use our democratic rights to effect change.
In a peaceful and free country like Canada, there is absolutely no room for intolerance, racism and extremism of any kind. We are not born believing we are better than one another. We are all created in the image and likeness of God, and because of that, we are all equal. An infinite value exists in each one of us.
Canada is an incredibly diverse country. Canada is a nation of immigrants that stands on the traditional territories of first nations, Inuit and Métis people. Waves of newcomers have come to Canada for a better life because our country is built on a rock-solid foundation of enduring values, democratic institutions, the rule of law and fundamental and universal human rights.
Everyone comes here because Canada is built on solid values, democratic institutions, and respect for the rule of law, as well as for fundamental, universal human rights.
We must absolutely protect these values, because they are what sets us apart. They allow Canada to offer what so many other countries simply cannot.
There are those who say that diversity is our strength, and that is true, but it doesn't quite capture the full picture. Diversity is the result of our strength, and our strength is and always has been our freedom.
It is the freedom for people to preserve and pass on their cultural traditions and the opportunity to live in peace with those around them; the freedom to live your life with equality under the law, regardless of your race or ethnic background; and the economic freedom that so many governments around the world deny their people.
It is that economic freedom that ensures that hard work pays off. It gives people the ability to work towards their dreams and choose their own path in life. Together, generations of Canadians who trace their roots back to countries around the world have built Canada to truly the greatest country on earth, the true north strong and free.
To ensure that our people remain free, we must continue to fight attacks on our freedoms, including racism and all forms of brutality and injustice in Canada and around the world. Minority rights must be protected. Freedom of religion must be protected. Freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest must be protected.
As John Diefenbaker said, “I am a Canadian...free to speak without fear, free to worship...in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.”
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
George Floyd is not a victim of racism; he is another victim of racism. At a time of crisis when outrage is overwhelming the caution and fear of disease among thousands of people who, despite everything, take to the streets to express that outrage, we here in politics will have to be careful, once again, about the words we use. Indeed we are particularly inclined to give other people's words a meaning other than the one they would have liked to give them.
Today, our duty—and I would say almost our only duty—is to express our solidarity, our sadness, our indignation and our anger, but above all—and in saying this, I'm thinking of all my friends and acquaintances in the wonderful black community in Quebec and the United States—our friendship. We must try to be heard by all humans. Every time we talk about this, a small part of me surfaces, that of the non-practising but unrepentant anthropologist who wants to remind us that races do not exist. It is the frequency of manifestations of certain genetic traits favoured by geography and history, which in turn shape cultures.
Racism expresses itself first and foremost through aggression against what is presumed to be the culture of others, difference. Each time difference instills fear, it is, of course, one time too many. We must learn to live equality in diversity, in itself an extraordinary thing. Governments in the U.S. have all been racist. Their racism has necessarily been expressed, at some point in their history, in their institutions. It has left its mark. It is the only thing that we have the right to call “systemic racism” or “systemic discrimination”.
I am concerned when anyone suggests that we are all and collectively inclined to engage in systemic discrimination or when anyone claims to be a bulwark of virtue between us and the victims. I believe that the Canadian government is not racist, that the Quebec government is not racist, and that the governments of our municipalities are not racist either.
I believe, however, that there may be traces of horrible things left in our institutions that colour our relationships with people of different origins or with people who were here long before us. So systemic racism probably exists. It should not denounce individuals, but it should encourage us to reread our rules to get rid of what might still be discriminatory in them. This day belongs to George Floyd. This day belongs to the black people of the United States. This day belongs to the black people of Quebec and Canada.
We don't play politics at the funeral doors: we gather our thoughts, and let indignation and sadness be expressed. We leave the streets to those who need to speak with one voice, in peace. All that is peaceful is legitimate. Nothing that is violent is legitimate.
The expressed the desire to implement concrete measures to fight racism. The first must be to show our solidarity and friendship. I'm proposing a very concrete measure, which is to give priority and expedited processing to the files of refugee claimants—especially Haitian, especially black, but also of other origins—who have expressed their desire to be part of the Quebec nation by putting themselves on the front line.
He has the power and the duty to do so, and if he needs Parliament, let's do it tomorrow or right now. That way, words will become actions, and the next step will be all the more credible. In the meantime, our duty is to stand up for those who are afraid and against those who frighten them.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Many, many Canadians were shocked to see the violence surrounding the murder of George Floyd. George Floyd's murder is a grim reminder that anti-black racism still exists and that it hits hard.
Anti-black racism isn't only in the United States; it's here in Canada, too. Systemic racism against blacks, indigenous people and many other visible minorities is alive and well: racial profiling, economic inequality, social inequality, discriminatory hiring, trivialization of violence, excess incarceration, and so on. Things aren't moving forward because one government after another prefers pretty words to concrete action. When the time comes to act, they don't have the courage, they don't have the will to act.
People are feeling a lot of grief and frustration, but we can turn that into action and justice. We must not just call for peace. I believe that we have to call for justice. Justice is the only way to create a better world.
When people around the world saw the killing of George Floyd, it left all of us shaken to our core. It was chilling, the casual violence of anti-black racism, the callous taking of another human being's life. It hurt to the core. There was pain. There was sadness. There is anger, and rightly so. There is frustration.
This isn't just an American problem. This is just as much a Canadian problem as well, and something that continues to exist across our country. Anti-black racism and anti-indigenous racism are real. People have suffered violence. Indigenous people and black people have suffered violence and have been killed at the hands of police here in Canada. I think about Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto and the calls for justice for Regis. A black trans woman was killed in suspicious circumstances in an interaction with the police. I think about Stewart Kevin Andrews, a young indigenous man killed in an interaction with the police in Winnipeg.
The anger and frustration are about this: How many more people need to die before there's action? How many more speeches will be made? How many more protests need to happen before something is done? How many more times will people plead to breathe? How many more times will they plead to live?
What we're talking about is basic human dignity. How many more voices have to ask, demand, plead, beg for basic human dignity? People are angry. They're feeling like enough is enough. Why do they need to keep on asking? Why do black people, why do indigenous people need to keep on asking to be treated like humans? Why?
You know, people are done with pretty speeches, particularly pretty speeches from people in power who could do something about it right now if they wanted to.
I'm standing in a hall of power, the chamber of the Commons, with a Prime Minister who has the power not just to say pretty words but to actually do something about this. The Prime Minister of this country has the power to go beyond pretty words and pretty speeches and do something.
I don't have all the answers. I don't think any one person does. We're going to have to come up with those solutions together, but there are certainly some things we do know.
Martin Luther King said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” That's what we need. We need justice.
Killer Mike extolled that people should plan, plot, strategize, organize and then mobilize. Cardi B put it this way: “Another way for the people to take power—I don't want to make everything political but it is what it is—is by voting.”
So what do we vote for? We vote for a government to take action.
I call on the , in this hall of power: If the Prime Minister believes that black lives matter, will the Prime Minister commit to ending racial profiling in our country? If the Prime Minister believes that black lives matter, will the Prime Minister commit to ending the over-policing of black bodies? If the Prime Minister believes, truly believes, that black lives matter, will the Prime Minister commit to ending the over-incarceration of black people in this country? If the Prime Minister truly believes that black lives matter, will he commit to ensuring that there are race-based data to make better decisions? Will he commit to ensuring that there's access to education and to health resources?
The has the power to do all these things right now. The Prime Minister simply needs to get it done.
If the truly believes that indigenous lives matter, then similarly the Prime Minister must commit today to ending the racial profiling of indigenous people, the over-policing of indigenous people and the over-incarceration of indigenous people. If the Prime Minister truly believes that indigenous lives matter, the Prime Minister could stop taking indigenous kids to court; the Prime Minister could stop delaying the action on the calls for justice for the murdered and missing indigenous women and girls. If the Prime Minister believes that indigenous lives matter, he could ensure that there's clean drinking water and access to justice and to education and housing right now.
People are angry because they are frustrated and done with pretty words. People are angry because they're done with pretty speeches from people in power who could do something about it right now. People don't want peace. They don't want an absence of tension. People want the presence of justice. People want justice. People deserve justice. People need justice, and justice is what people will get. Nothing less will do.
This is indeed a difficult day. It's a difficult week. These have been difficult weeks.
I stand here and want to begin by acknowledging that we are all on the traditional territory of the Algonquin peoples, and again to say meegwetch, on a day like this when we're focusing on something so painful that really is beyond partisanship and that should bind us together as people who say we cannot tolerate racism, not in this country. But we know it's here.
As the just said,
“Racism never has a place in this country”.
But we know it's here and we know it's living with us.
We are facing, in this pandemic, two dangerous, invisible viruses. One is COVID-19 and the other one we've tolerated far too long, which is race-based hatred, hate speech and anti-black racism. Yes, black lives matter. I want to do nothing but just chant it in this place until we all stand together and say, “Black lives matter.”
What we are seeing in the murder of George Floyd is exactly as my colleague from the Bloc Québécois said:
“George Floyd is not a victim of racism; he is another victim of racism”.
There is victim upon victim upon victim.
These victims have names. We must not forget their names.
The first time a black man was killed when his last words were “I can't breathe” was in 2014, with Eric Garner. His mother did interviews this week. Imagine what she's going through, because George Floyd died on video also saying, “I can't breathe”, and the people who were stopping him from breathing, his killers, are the police. In the case of Eric Garner, the policemen were fired but never charged. In George Floyd's murder, at least one killer has been charged, but it doesn't do anything to ease the pain, nor, as my friend from the NDP said, does it quench the thirst for justice, because that's what people are crying out for. They're crying out for justice.
The names just keep cascading. I had to look it up because I thought, when was it that the poor young man who was jogging was murdered by the father and son in the pickup truck? He was murdered by a retired policeman and his son in their pickup truck, in February. Breonna Taylor of Louisville was murdered in her own home by cops who thought she might have drugs there. They searched, and she didn't.
What on earth allows this to keep happening over and over again?
I looked at a site called “Just Security” and I thought these words from reporter Mia Bloom, who happens to be Canadian, were pretty clear on what puts you at risk of death in the United States of America, but also in Canada: “driving while black, jogging while black, reporting while black, bird watching while black, selling lemonade while black” can get you killed.
The killers far too often are wearing a uniform. I want to go back to the words “reporting while black”, because this is something else we've seen in the last four days that we've never seen before, which is the deliberate targeting of reporters by police. Over 100 reporters have been injured in the United States in the last four days. One woman lost her eye. These are serious injuries. Sometimes reporters get in the way of riots and whatnot, but this is different. This is another element altogether.
It seems that, in this place, when we have speeches and pretty words to denounce racism, we do it in a kind of cycle. After Colten Boushie's murder, we talked about anti-indigenous racism. We talked about the threat to our indigenous brothers and sisters across this country who also face racism on a daily basis. We talked about the fact that they are disproportionately in our prisons.
Just within the last day, the report came down on the killing of Dale Culver in Prince George at the hands of the Prince George RCMP. This indigenous young man was 35 years old, and he was pepper-sprayed until he couldn't breathe. There will be charges in this case. That's the recommendation that just came down.
We go through sequential moments where we can say Islamophobia is not okay. Six Muslims at prayer in Quebec City were murdered. We can all stand up and say we denounce Islamophobia. Or we can denounce anti-trans violence against individual trans people who are murdered.
We denounce anti-Semitism when we see anti-Semitic graffiti scrawled on the door of an Ottawa rabbi's home. We denounce it, but can we get to the root of it?
As the honourable leader of the Conservative Party mentioned, in recent days we're seeing anti-Asian racism on the increase.
We're seeing all this happen and we want to be good allies. We want to be a good ally to the family of Regis Korchinski-Paquet. We want to be a good ally.
I am a woman of privilege. I got it by mere random accident of birth. I was born to white parents. Privilege is being white.
We have to study our privilege. We have to acknowledge our privilege and we have to know, as the said, we're not perfect, but it doesn't give us a free pass to ignore that we have to stand up and we have to speak out.
I am sitting so close to my friend here, our minister, —I say your name out loud, but your tweets brought me to tears—that this fine man faces racism in his own riding, that his three beautiful black boys have people turn away or clutch their purse or they're a little worried when the kids are around. It sounds exactly like what the just called the “microaggressions” that many of us might not even see.
We can look at our own conduct and our own behaviour. In looking at these things, there is something I want to say, when we look at all these things that are happening and we wonder, what we can do about it. When we see a bully, when we hear hate speech, we have to speak up. We have to speak out and we have to say that the President of the United States is fomenting hatred and violence and it's shameful and shocking that he would grab a Bible, then use tear gas to clear peaceful protestors on a Washington street so that Donald Trump could pose with a Bible in front of an Episcopal church.
The Episcopal Bishop of Washington had this to say, because she is a good ally:
In no way do we support the President's incendiary response to a wounded, grieving nation. In faithfulness to our Saviour who lived a life of non-violence and sacrificial love, we align ourselves with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd.
That's what we must do in this place. We must acknowledge and speak up for justice for the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, the report on which languishes a year later.
We must stand up for justice and we must examine something very worrying. In 2006, the U.S. FBI warned that white supremacist groups were targeting police forces and joining them. If we're looking for real action, things we can do in this place, I call on us to have an inquiry and an examination to root out white supremacist groups in Canada and identify them for what they are, a terrorist threat in our midst. We must make sure they're not in our police forces, because if there is one thing scarier than a white supremacist with a gun, it's a white supremacist with a gun in uniform.
Please, God, there are things we can do. Please, God, we love each other, take care of each other regardless of the colour of our skin, and pray for the United States of America. It's a country being ripped apart, and the ripping and the tearing is being done by people who should at this very time be consoling and leading and inspiring.
Pray. Pray for Canada. Pray for each and every one of our beautiful black baby girls and boys, the indigenous baby girls and boys, the Asian kids. Wherever you look, reach out and be a good ally. Stand up and say, “With my body I get between you and the cops.” We have to be good allies. Right now, they're just pretty words.
Thank you for listening.
I am honoured to speak to you about a proud warrior.
Stephan Lavoie had made the choice to say thank you to life. For several years, he had been using his fight against cancer, which he led with the help of natural products only, to ensure cancer services and care were improved, particularly in regions far from major centres.
Mayor of Preissac, in the RCM of Abitibi, Stephan Lavoie passed away yesterday. I would like to extend my condolences to his wife, Anabelle, to his entire family and especially to his daughter, Astrid, who is only 20 months old.
Through his humanism, Stephan Lavoie was a warrior, a visionary and a great source of inspiration for all of us. To me, he was above all the perfect model of a committed and loving father.
My thoughts also go out to the citizens of Preissac, to whom he leaves a dynamic legacy, and to the leaders of the Abitibi community.
In our first conversation, he said to me, and I hope the House will echo it forever, that all of our decisions must be made with our children in mind.
Stephan, rest in peace, dear friend.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to start by thanking the government for listening to my proposals a couple of weeks ago regarding the extension of benefits for vulnerable Canadians who may not have been able to file their income tax by this week's deadline. There are millions of relieved seniors with GIS and parents with the child tax benefit and GST who now know they have a bit of time and protection and aren't to be cut off from their benefits.
I'm hoping to go two for two here today, so there's no pressure to the Minister of Public Safety.
I want to build on the comments last week from Ms. Gladu, my colleague from Sarnia—Lambton, about family reunification between Canadians and Americans. Many constituents in my riding are concerned and are caught in this situation.
I certainly support, and I think we support in this chamber, the idea of the extension for travel. However, it's now been three months since many spouses have seen each other, and there are Canadian and American children in custody arrangements who have seen their parent only on one side of the border or the other.
After stating for months that reunifying families wasn't considered essential travel, I am thankful that he and the Prime Minister have now said that it is.
Will the minister agree to the safe and fair proposal we outlined in our letter last week, which would exempt spouses, children and those with medical needs travelling back and forth with accompanying documentation, so that we can get people and their families back together?
George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Nicholas Gibbs, Colten Boushie, Tina Fontaine, Alain Magloire and Breonna Taylor were not all born on the same side of the border, but they all lost their lives at the hand of the same cruel enemy: racism.
We cannot, here in Canada, think higher of ourselves when we are reading the headlines of our neighbour. We cannot ignore our history, past or present.
The final report from the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls stated that indigenous women and girls have faced a Canadian genocide.
In 2018 a report revealed that a black person was almost 20 times more likely than a white person to be fatally shot by the Toronto police, and a 2019 report exposed systemic bias among the Montreal police force against black and indigenous people.
Black lives matter. Indigenous lives matter.
I am asking the , as per her mandate, what exactly our government intends to do now to fight racism among its institutions. If the anti-racism secretariat has in fact been established, what priorities have been actioned?