Trudeau: Canadians watching US unrest and police violence in ‘shock and horror’

Leyland Cecco in Toronto
Photograph: Canadian Press/Rex/Shutterstock

Canadians are watching unrest and police violence in the United States in “shock and horror”, Justin Trudeau said on Friday – but the prime minister cautioned that his country also has entrenched problems with racism

The city of Minneapolis has been rocked by a third night of violent protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, after a white police officer knelt on his neck as he lay on the ground following arrest. 

“Many Canadians of diverse backgrounds are watching, like all Canadians are, the news out of the United States with shock and with horror,” Trudeau told reporters at a daily briefing.

“Anti-black racism – racism – is real. It’s in the United States but it’s also in Canada and we know people are facing systemic discrimination, unconscious bias and anti-black racism every single day,” said Trudeau, calling on the country to “stand together in solidarity” against racial hate. “We have work to do as well in Canada.” 

Racial inequities continue to persist throughout the country – a grim reality that is often apparent during interactions with police. 

In December 2018, the province of Ontario released a landmark report that found black residents in Toronto – the country’s largest city – are 20 times more likely to be shot dead by the police than white residents. 

“It’s a very Canadian tradition to speak in platitudes, to refer to the underground railroad and to speak about Canada as a haven and a place that acknowledges its past mistakes,” said Robyn Maynard, author of Policing Black Lives. “But we continue to see similar structural harms and structural kinds of violence as we do in places where leaders make more overtly vitriolic statements towards black communities.”

Last month, 26-year-old D’Andre Campbell was shot dead by police inside his own home, north of Toronto, after Campbell himself called 911.

Earlier this week, the family of Regis Korchinski-Paquet said a police officer shoved the young woman over the balcony of the family’s 24th-floor apartment, where she fell to her death. The case is currently under investigation by an arms-length police watchdog.

Maynard also pointed out the coronavirus pandemic continues to have a disproportionate impact on black and indigenous residents, who are overrepresented in the country’s prison population.

“We continue to see prisons and jails being epicentres of outbreaks,” she said. “Yet there is failure on the part of the federal government to meaningfully release to release prisoners.”

Trudeau’s unprompted remarks marked a notable departure for a leader who has gone to great lengths to avoid irritating his US counterpart, Donald Trump.

Related: Canada is hailed for its tolerance but is it ready to confront its racism?

Canadian prime ministers have traditionally refrained from discussing political and social turmoil in the US – Canada’s main ally and largest trading partner. 

Justin Trudeau has long spoken about the need to tackle racism, but his re-election campaign was marred by pictures of him in blackface as a young man.