As protests against anti-Black discrimination continue on in the U.S. and Canada, two Canadian political figures faced fallout for their denial of racism in Canada.
Former Canadian cabinet minister Stockwell Day made remarks on CBC News’ Power and Politics during a panel discussion on June 2 about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s comments about Canadian systemic racism in the wake of the death of African-American George Floyd during an arrest in the U.S.
Day argued that Canada isn't racist.
"We have to recognize that our system is not perfect in Canada," Day stated on the show. "Yes, there's a few idiot racists hanging around but Canada is not a racist country and most Canadians are not racist. And our system, that always needs to be improved, is not systemically racist."
Day also compared his childhood experiences of bullying to racism.
"Should I have gone through school and been mocked because I had glasses and was called four-eyes and because of the occupation of my parents?" Day asked. "Should I have been mocked for all that? No, of course not. But are Canadians largely and in majority racist? No, we are not.”
He also criticized Trudeau’s assessment of Canada.
“We celebrate our diversity around the world and for the prime minister to insinuate—and it is an insinuation—that our system is systemically racist is wrong.”
The following day (June 3), Day reasserted his position on social media, stating “Is Canada ‘systemically racist’? No. We slur Canadians by wrongly saying that. Our ‘system’ is praised worldwide for its intent and design to protect the rights of all minorities. And we work to make it even better.“
After receiving criticism from other panelists as well as the public, Day later posted an apology on social media.
However, the damage was done.
Day stepped down from his role as a commentator on CBC News Network.
McMillan LLP CEO Teresa Dufort, a business law firm with offices across Canada (including Vancouver) and in Hong Kong, issued a statement on June 3 that, as his comments ran counter to the company’s beliefs that systemic racism is real, they accepted his resignation as a strategic advisor.
In addition, Vancouver-based communication technology company Telus issued a statement on June 3 that it had accepted Day’s resignation from the Telus board of directors.
“The views expressed by Mr. Day during yesterday’s broadcast of Power and Politics are not reflective of the values and beliefs of our organization,” the statement reads.
Meanwhile, Ontario’s premier made similar comments about racism in Canada—then backtracked.
When Premier Doug Ford was asked on June 2 to comment on the protests, he argued that Canada does not have the same “systemic, deep roots” of racism as the United States.
However, Ford’s statements in the Ontario Legislature the next day (June 3) contradicted what he had previously said, by acknowledging that systemic racism exists in Ontario and across Canada.
“I know it exists, Mr. Speaker,” Ford stated. “What I don’t know is the hardships faced by those communities….I do not have those lived experiences and I can empathize with them. But again, Mr. Speaker, a lot of us have never lived that. We’ve never walked a mile in someone’s shoes that has faced racism. Not only just in the black community—a lot of minority communities throughout the history of Ontario and Canada have faced racism.”
NDP MPP Gurratan Singh argued that the nation is founded upon a history of injustice, and criticized Ford for denying this fact and address Canadians who think Canada is different from the U.S.
“To those folks, to the premier, I say Canada, Ontario, this very House that we stand in here today, is built upon systemic racism,” Singh said at the Ontario Legislature on June 3. “It is built upon a history of the oppression of Black and Brown people, of the enslavement of Black people, of the genocide of Indigenous people.”More