POLITICS
06/18/2020 18:57 EDT

Yves-Francois Blanchet Defends MP Accused Of Making Racist Gesture Toward Jagmeet Singh

Singh called Bloc Quebecois MP Alain Therrien a racist for blocking a motion on systemic racism in the RCMP.

OTTAWA — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s accusation that a Bloc Quebecois MP is a racist has boiled over into a second day of tense exchanges in Ottawa.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet defended the actions of Bloc 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.

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.”

“Who is entitled to say, ‘Oh, he moved in such a way and this means this or that?’” Blanchet said, also saying it was a gesture nobody seems to remember.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS
Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet is seen during a news conference on Thursday in Ottawa.

The exchange was not captured on House of Commons cameras Wednesday; Singh described the gesture in a news conference afterward.

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.

Later, 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.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh asks a question during the special committee on the COVID Pandemic in the House of Commons on Thursday.

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 had asked the Commons to recognize there is systemic racism in the RCMP and to call on the Liberal government to review the police force’s budget, ensure the Mounties are truly accountable, examine the Mounties’ use of force, and boost non-police spending on mental health and addiction support.

Blanchet said his party voted against the motion because the Bloc is already supporting a Commons public safety committee study of RCMP racism, which it considers a major issue. The party did not want to handcuff the committee before its work had even begun.

When asked about the situation Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it is not for him to criticize the only racialized party leader in the House of Commons when a question of racism arises.

“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,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 18, 2020.