Two Black Nova Scotians who reported being racially profiled on Parliament Hill during a visit earlier this month say the apology they received from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a private meeting last Thursday was genuine.
“I totally respect his apology and also we shared some thoughts on ways to involve the youth, the upcoming generation,” Trayvone Clayton, a Halifax university student, told reporters at the Black Cultural Centre in Cherry Brook, Nova Scotia.
And Kate MacDonald, a Halifax education and outreach co-ordinator, also welcomed the apology from Trudeau.
“He [the Prime Minister] said that he was sorry and he was deeply affected by what had happened and he recognizes that there is anti-black racism in Canada, that it is an issue that we’re still trying to work through,” said MacDonald, who described the mood during the private meeting as good.
Clayton and MacDonald were among a large group of Black people from various cities and towns in Canada who were waiting to meet several government ministers for scheduled discussions in the Parliament building.
The visitors reported that a government employee had complained to the Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS) about them, taking their picture and referring to them as “dark-skinned people
Just the day before, members of that group had attended the closing session of the National Black Canadians summit held February 1-3 last at the National Arts Centre where the implementation of the Canadian Strategic Plan for the International Decade for People of African Descent: (20172024) was discussed.
And before leaving Ottawa to return home, on Monday February 4 last, they were to meet with eight government ministers during what they called “Black Voices on the Hill lobby day.”
Clayton said he was very hurt by the incident, given they were invited to Ottawa to discuss ways of stopping hatred and racism toward Black people.
MacDonald and Clayton said they look forward to discussions with the prime minister to talk about possible youth initiatives for Black youth.
After the private apology and a tour of the cultural centre, Trudeau spoke to a large crowd of Black community members and leaders, dignitaries and other guests.
As an MP and now prime minister, Trudeau said he gets to meet people from every corner of the country who come to the Parliament Buildings, which he described as impressive and intimidating stone buildings with “paintings of white guys on the walls.”
“One of the first things I say to people is, ‘This is your House. This is your House of Parliament. This is your building. This is where we serve you. This is your place,'” Trudeau said.
“And to have these young [people] walk into their place for the first time, wanting to be part of … conversations about their identity and what matters, and to have them smacked in the face with a stark reminder that anti-black racism exists, that unconscious bias exists, that systemic discrimination exists in this country today still, is not something we would want to be talking about this Black History Month.”
Trudeau acknowledged there is still much work to be done to combat racism in Canada.
“If it hadn’t happened in Parliament, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have happened anywhere else in this country on any given day, because it does,” he said. In a statement Halifax MP Andy Fillmore said he was “deeply troubled” by the allegations.
“Discrimination of any kind is unacceptable, anywhere in Canada. But that is especially true in the halls of Parliament, the heart of Canadian democracy,” he said.
“When constituents from Halifax brought this unfortunate incident to my attention, I quickly raised it in the House of Commons and called for an internal investigation.”
Fillmore said he raised the issue with Trudeau, who offered to meet with the individuals involved.
“I believe this is a positive step which demonstrates our commitment to the shared goal of ending systemic racial discrimination in Canada,” Fillmore said.
The Parliamentary Protective Service issued an apology and launched an internal investigation of the incident.
Last week, Geoff Regan, Speaker of the House of Commons, publicly condemned the incident, saying it “cannot be condoned and must be dealt with swiftly and purposefully.”
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