OTTAWA — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was tossed out of the House of Commons chamber Wednesday after refusing to apologize for calling a Bloc Québécois MP a racist.
The exchange happened after Singh asked the House for unanimous consent to support a motion to review the budget of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the use of force by Mounties, noting “several Indigenous people have died at the hands of the RCMP in recent months.”
Singh’s motion, which called on the House to recognize “that there is systemic racism in the RCMP,” did not receive unanimous consent, with at least one MP in the chamber saying no.
Shortly after, Bloc MP Claude DeBellefeuille stood up on a point of order to draw attention to the NDP leader for “insulting” her colleague, Bloc House Leader Alain Therrien.
“I do not believe that a leader of a party can, here, treat another member of this House, call them racist, because we don’t approve the motion that was just moved,” DeBellefeuille said, later calling the behaviour unparliamentary.
Assistant Deputy Speaker Carol Hughes then asked if Singh would like to intervene.
“It’s true,” Singh said in French. “I called him a racist and I believe that’s so.”
Hughes, a member of the NDP caucus, asked Singh to apologize.
“I will not,” Singh responded.
DeBellefeuille later said she was “absolutely floored” the NDP leader was challenging the authority of the deputy speaker by refusing to apologize and asked Singh immediately to leave the chamber.
Hughes said that she would take the matter to House Speaker Anthony Rota but added that, in the meantime, Singh would not “be able to speak” in the House.
About 20 minutes later, Rota told the House that he had to “name” Singh — a final step before expulsion, according to the House rules — for failing to respect the authority of the Speaker.
“I order you withdrawn from the House for the remainder of the sitting day,” Rota said.
‘I got angry. I’ll be honest’
The NDP leader told reporters at a later press conference that he lost his cool after Therrien not only denied his motion, but made a dismissive hand gesture as if he was brushing something away from his shoulder.
“And in that moment, I got angry. I’ll be honest,” Singh said, choking up. “I’m sad now… because why can’t we act? Why can’t we do something to save people’s lives? We can do something. And why would someone say no to that?”
Singh said with that gesture, he saw “exactly what has happened for so long,” with certain people dismissing racism against Indigenous people and Black people as not a big deal.
“In that moment, I saw the face of racism. That’s what it looks like when someone dismisses the reality that people are going through.”
He also doubled down on his accusation, outside the House of Commons chamber where MPs are protected by parliamentary privilege, that Therrien is a racist.
“Anyone who votes against a motion that recognizes the systemic racism in the RCMP and the calls for basic fixes to the problem… reducing use of force, calling for de-escalation, looks at ways of having health care response instead of police response in the context of Indigenous people dying, in the context of violence against Indigenous people and Black people… in that context, someone who votes against that is a racist,” Singh said. Yes.”
Asked how he felt, as the first racialized leader of a federal party, to be removed from the House, Singh paraphrased veteran NDP MP Charlie Angus, who said “someone can act racist in the House of Commons and not get kicked out, and someone can call them out for doing something racist and get kicked out.
“I don’t know. You figure that out.”
The Bloc did not acknowledge Therrien’s role in reportedly provoking Singh with a flippant hand gesture.
In a statement, the party said it supports another motion to study systemic racism in the RCMP. The leader of the NDP “defamed” Therrien with an “unjustifiable insult” after he said “no” to the NDP motion, the party said. “He must apologize immediately.”
Singh told reporters that his motion didn’t contain any “controversial ideas” that would merit more time-consuming study.
Elizabeth May calls for inquiry into RCMP
Hours earlier, Green Party parliamentary leader Elizabeth May told reporters that it is time for a full inquiry into the RCMP.
May, who called the RCMP a “racist institution” last week, said her party understands the vast majority of Mounties are dedicated professionals.
“So, this is not to say, by any stretch, that we think RCMP officers, in general, are racist,” she said. “We’re speaking of the institution, the organization. Its corporate culture.”
May said the national police force sees itself as “unaccountable,” saying it is time for investigations into, among other things, the RCMP’s use of force against protesters and Indigenous peoples. She also called for an immediate inquiry into the shooting death of Rodney Levi from the Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation by New Brunswick RCMP last Friday.
“We need to put the RCMP under a microscope,” she said. “We need an inquiry that fully explores how the RCMP conducts itself.”