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THE SENATE — Racism

Leave Granted to Consider Matter of Urgent Public Interest Pursuant to Rule 8

June 18, 2020


The Hon. the Speaker [ - ]

Honourable senators, earlier today the Clerk received a request from the Honourable Senator Moodie for an emergency debate about the rise in reports of acts of racism against Afro-Canadians, Indigenous Canadians and Asian Canadians. Copies of the request are available at your desks.

When a request for an emergency debate is received, Senators’ Statements are replaced by consideration of the request. The time for consideration of the request is a maximum of 15 minutes, and interventions are limited to five minutes. At the end of the 15 minutes, I must determine whether, in light of the criteria set out in rules 8-2(1) and 8-3(2), the request can be granted.

I will now recognize Senator Moodie.

Hon. Rosemary Moodie [ - ]

Your Honour, on June 4, 2020, Chantel Moore was shot and killed by police in New Brunswick. She was from the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in British Columbia.

On May 27, Regis Korchinski-Paquet died in Toronto following an encounter with the police. She was a black woman.

Both women were under the age of 30.

On May 6, the Vancouver Police stated that there had been 20 incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes so far in 2020, surging sharply from the 12 reported in total for 2019.

These sad stories point to the racism that explicitly and systematically exists in our country. The COVID-19 crisis has shaken our country to its core, acutely unmasking an ugliness and surging brutality, unmasking the insidious disease called racism that many of us have known but has been ignored for far too long.

According to rule 8-3(2), I need to prove two things to make this argument to you. First, that the matter concerns the administrative responsibilities of the government or could come within the scope of departmental action. Second, that it is unlikely that the Senate will have another opportunity to consider this matter within a reasonable period of time.

Your Honour, on the first criteria, the government has failed to act on the issue of racism. There have been no meaningful actions on the recommendation of the 2018 report from the House of Commons Heritage Committee on systemic discrimination. Similarly, the government has recently announced it no longer intends to produce an action plan this month to implement the recommendations of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

The government has also fallen short on its promise to reform the public service, to put in place stronger policies to promote economic prosperity, to reform criminal justice and public safety and to provide race-based data that will guide policy decision making. All of these areas fall within the scope and authority of various government departments that have failed to act in the best interest of racialized Canadians.

On the second criteria, Your Honour, the pandemic has critically reduced our time in this chamber. We are all aware that this is the third regular sitting day we have had since March 13. Over the next few weeks, we may unfortunately continue to face uncertainty and severe restrictions around our time together to address this critical issue, in the interest of all Canadians.

Those reasons being presented, I would also state, Your Honour, that this places the Senate in a position where it will not be able to have this debate in a reasonable period of time and I feel that this debate is already overdue.

Your Honour, it is clear to me the Rules of the Senate endorse this debate. I hope you rule in its favour. Thank you.

Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition) [ - ]

Your Honour, let me start by thanking Senator Moodie for raising this very important issue. I agree with Senator Moodie that there is indeed an urgency in addressing and debating racism and discrimination. It is for that reason that I have given notice, on Tuesday, for the Senate to have an inquiry on the presence of racism and discrimination within Canadian institutions.

I do not believe an emergency debate is the best mechanism for this debate for the following reasons:

Four hours of debate are clearly not sufficient to properly address an issue of this importance.

Not all senators can be in the chamber today due to the measures in place because of public health guidelines for COVID-19.

Many senators from the Atlantic region — New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador — aren’t here to take part in this debate because of travel restrictions and COVID-19.

Indeed, if there are discussions about the RCMP I believe senators from Nova Scotia, the province recently hit by a mass killing attack, should very much be part of this debate.

Your Honour and colleagues, I believe the proper mechanism for an important debate such as this is via an inquiry. An inquiry will allow more time for all senators to speak on this very important issue.

This discussion has indeed been evolving and I believe our debates will also progress. An open-ended debate provides time for proper reflection and sober second thought. We can continue to have this dialogue into the fall, if that would be our desire. I would certainly hope that it would be. I don’t think anything can be solved here over the next day — or days, even.

However, Your Honour, we will defer to your wisdom and to your judgment. I want to assure all colleagues and I want to assure Senator Moodie that should you rule in favour of an emergency debate and that is the way to go, the Conservative caucus will fully cooperate and take part in that debate if you would so rule. Thank you.

Hon. Scott Tannas [ - ]

On behalf of our group, let me reiterate what has been our position throughout.

First, I want to commend Senator Moodie for her initiative. It’s so worthy and so important.

We have senators who would like to participate and cannot. Their feelings are of great frustration, and I spoke of it yesterday. Therefore our position is similar to what Senator Plett said. We will defer to the wisdom of the Speaker and if the debate goes forward we will not challenge or in any way be uncooperative. Thank you.

Hon. Peter M. Boehm [ - ]

I rise to support my colleague Senator Moodie in calling for an emergency debate. I am of the view that we are at an inflection point in our country. This particular issue does not just require an emergency debate, it also requires a special committee, ideally a Committee of the Whole, and ongoing work into the fall and beyond.

We have seen from various reports, including the report provided by the Parliamentary Black Caucus, that there are many prescriptions out there, and many proposed solutions. It’s not a matter of coming up with new ones. We know what is on the record and what is out there, and it’s for us to debate and to look ahead.

I’m very supportive of the proposal made by Senator Moodie. Thank you.

Hon. Jim Munson [ - ]

On behalf of the progressive Senate caucus, we fully support Senator Moodie’s call for an emergency debate. It’s interesting that we have to wait for a chief to get injured, somebody to get killed, to get our attention, as I said in a statement earlier.

It has been a bit of a scramble putting all of these notes together in supporting the call for this debate. Senator Plett talked about four hours; well, four hours is a good start.

In your ruling, Your Honour, in reference to Senator Tkachuk, when he called for an emergency debate on February 6, 2018, you ruled in favour. It was a debate on expanding the Trans Mountain Pipeline. You said in your ruling that, of course, having a debate would not preclude an inquiry. I think that’s an important point to make.

When it comes to systemic racism or institutionalized racism, we know in this country that it’s very prevalent everywhere: hiring in the public service, hiring in the private sector, in the arts, in sports, in institutions perhaps like this. I believe we have to deal with this directly.

I find it interesting that, as we start off this argument to have this debate, it’s fitting that 30 years ago, on June 18, 1990, Nelson Mandela stood in the other place and spoke to a joint parliamentary sitting and he spoke of a free and inclusive South Africa. Today we need to speak about a free and inclusive Canada. There have been recent polls that have shown 61% of Canadians are certain or almost certain that there is systemic racism in this country. I worry about and I am concerned what the other 39% are thinking at this time.

If we want to look at systemic racism, and if you agree to a debate on systemic racism, Your Honour, I’m sure I have lots of notes to talk about this, but when we talk about other senators not being here, we have been able to speak for other senators. I know other senators have spoken for absent senators in other groups. There’s a good 35 or 40 of us here today, and, as I said at the beginning of my arguments, it’s a really good start. We have to get at this and look at this seriously.

Just think about it. Systemic racism is about white superiority and power in all aspects of our lives. It’s what prevents anyone who is not white from having equal access to a successful life. We are most often not really aware of our racist behaviour, which is called “unconscious bias.”

With that, Your Honour, I leave it with you to make your decision, but if it’s not now, when? Thank you very much.

Honourable senators, I rise in support of the call for an emergency debate brought forward by Senator Moodie, and I thank her for bringing it forward.

Colleagues, in this moment, as we are hearing the cries of Canadians calling for a systemic change, calling for an end to systemic racism, it is our responsibility, as those in positions of power and privilege, to demand a new reality that eradicates the discrimination and historical injustices of the past.

Systemic discrimination is most clearly evidenced in our prisons. My friends, those of you who have been to prisons with me with committees have witnessed first-hand who fills those cells. It is the result of the systemic failure and discrimination of every other system.

Racialized Canadians are over-represented in prison: 9% of men and 11% of women in federal penitentiaries are black; 30% of men and 42% of women are Indigenous. These realities are the product and the result of decades — indeed, centuries — of inequality in every part of our systems. Now is the time when everybody is out in the streets, when people are calling for the systemic change to happen, for us to entertain this debate in this place at this time.

The emergency debate proposed by Senator Moodie will allow us to discuss urgently needed measures informed by decades of past reports and recommendations to eradicate systemic racism in the criminal legal system and beyond. We are currently witnessing the consequences of historic inaction.

Now, I would suggest, honourable colleagues and Your Honour, is very much the time for us to act.

The Hon. the Speaker [ - ]

The time for considering the request for an emergency debate has expired. In order to prepare the ruling, the sitting will be suspended briefly, and will resume after a five-minute bell.

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