The debate over when is a gesture racist was raging for a second day on Parliament Hill following NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh calling out a member of the Bloc Quebecois (BQ), a party only in Quebec, in the House of Commons Wednesday.
On Thursday, it was BQ leader Yves-Francois Blanchet defended the actions of his MP Alain Therrien, whom Singh called a racist for blocking a motion Singh wanted to present Wednesday on systemic racism in the RCMP.
The dispute led to the Speaker barring Singh from the House of Commons Wednesday.
Single claims there was unanimous agreement for the motion – except for Therrrien.
“And I looked back I saw that MP not only say no but make eye contact but kind of brush his hand dismiss it,” Singh told reporters in Ottawa on Thursday.
“And it that moment I got angry.”
Blanchet says Therrien is anything but a racist and denied the MP made a brushing-off gesture after refusing the unanimous consent the motion required to proceed, a movement Singh described as “dismissive” and “the face of racism.”
He says his party was saying no to Singh’s motion because it wants an RCMP review studied by a committee first.
Blanchet also wondered how a gesture could be interpreted as racist.
“If somebody doesn’t say something explicit, who is entitled to say, ‘oh he moved his hand in such a way and it means this and that,’” he said.
The exchange was not captured on House of Commons cameras Wednesday.
Blanchet called for Singh to apologize for painting his party as discriminatory.
“Mr. Singh is a good person, I always thought that and I still think that. He somehow dropped the ball and I hope he will take it back,” Blanchet said.
If Singh would not apologize, the Bloc leader expressed his wish that the Speaker of the House of Commons would respond with a more “severe” penalty than a 24-hour suspension.
On Thursday, when Singh stood to ask questions during a meeting of the special COVID-19 committee in the Commons chamber, Bloc MP Claude DeBellefeuille objected, asking Speaker Anthony Rota not to allow Singh to be recognized and speak because he still had not apologized.
“This is a rather serious issue. If we allow a member or a party leader to insult another member, what will happen to us here? You’ll have the right to insult your colleague and then you’re only expelled for one day? This can’t be the case,” DeBellefeuille said in French.
Rota said he would take to consider the matter, but allowed Singh to ask his questions, as the expulsion happened while the House of Commons was sitting normally on Wednesday, not as a special committee, and therefore operates under different rules.
At this, the three Bloc MPs in the House of Commons got up and left the chamber as soon as Singh began to speak.
Singh continued with his question, “Will the Prime Minister commit immediately to putting in place concrete policy changes to address the systemic racism in the RCMP?”
Trudeau replied, “We need to take concrete action right away to address systemic racism in this country. We have much work to do. We will do it with partners. And we’ll do it with everyone in this house who wants to work with it on us.” 12:43:46:10
During his daily briefing, Trudeau took a partisan swipe at the BQ when asked about the Singh incident.
“It is disappointing that the Bloc Quebecois continues to refuse to accept that systemic discrimination, systemic racism exists within our country in very part of our country and in all our institutions,” said Trudeau.
“I think we need to recognize these conversations are going to make people uncomfortable. But it has been the lived reality of racialized and Indigenous Canadians for far too long and we need to continue to move forward in a way that attempts to bring people together.”
Blanchet through an interpreter said that there is not clear definition of systemic racism and insisted his party is anything but racist.
With files from the Canadian Press