APTN National News
A former federal minister of Aboriginal affairs, who is trying to secure a Liberal nomination to run in the next election, says he doesn’t believe institutional racism exists in Canada, but it is alive and well at the individual level.
Robert Nault, who was Liberal minister of the then-named Indian Affairs department between 1999 and 2003, publicly battled with a former Assembly of First Nations national chief over the issue of racism in Canada.
The issue of racism has once again reared its ugly head through a front-cover story in Maclean’s magazine which claimed Canada has a bigger race problem than the U.S. The debate around the issue now echoes a similar episode when Nault clashed with former AFN national chief Matthew Coon Come who compared South Africa’s Apartheid system to Canada’s treatment of the Indigenous population. Coon Come made the comparison during a conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.
“We also recognized the racist and colonial syndrome of dispossession and discrimination that was taking place in South Africa from our own experience. My own people, the James Bay Cree, have been virtually completely dispossessed of our lands and resources,” Coon Come said during a speech delivered at the conference.
Nault, who was Indian Affairs minister at the time, responded angrily to Coon Come’s statements and demanded an apology. He denied institutionalized racism existed in Canada.
Nault said in an interview Friday he still doesn’t believe Canada has an issue of institutionalized racism.
“(Coon Come) said we had institutionalized racism, which is a lot different than people, average Joes out there, who are racist because every country has that,” said Nault. “(Coon Come) was talking about Canada as a government had racist policies…Just because we are a Western country and have European-style government doesn’t mean we are racist. It can be argued we are colonial, I suppose.”
Nault said he hadn’t read the Macelan’s article and didn’t know enough about the U.S. to determine whether Canada has a bigger race issue.
“I would have to read how they came up with their analysis of that. That is a pretty deep statement to make, don’t you think?” said Nault. “From our country’s point-of-view, we have racism in individual communities and…there are lots of people working to make sure it is not the case. You are always going to run into people who don’t deal well with either First Nations people or other ethnicities.”
Nault said he understands why current Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt is trying to steer wide of the flaring debate over racism and whether Canada has a race problem in attitudes toward the Indigenous population.
“I can see why Valcourt and others are running from this, what you are asking is a difficult thing to answer,” said Nault. “Statistically, because you know people on the street are racist, does that make the whole community racist? That is a hard question to answer.”
Coon Come could not be reached for comment.
Nault is currently running unopposed for the Liberal nomination in the Kenora, Ont., riding which is currently held by Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford.