We Cannot Tolerate Racism, but We Know it’s Here

Among the leaders’ statements to the House on racism and protests following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, Green Party House Leader Elizabeth May said we were dealing with two “invisible viruses” — COVID-10 and racism, especially anti-black racism.

Elizabeth May

June 2, 2020

This is indeed a difficult day. It’s a difficult week, it’s been difficult weeks.

I stand here and want to begin by acknowledging we’re all on the traditional territories of the Algonquin peoples, and again to say “Meegwetch.”

Because on a day like this, when we’re focusing on something so painful, that it really is beyond partisanship and should bind us together as a people that say, “we cannot tolerate racism, not in this country, but we know it’s here.”

As the Prime Minister just said, “Racism has no place here.”

But we know it’s living with us. So we are facing in this pandemic, two dangerous, invisible viruses. One is COVID-19, and the other we’ve tolerated far too long, which is race-based hatred, hate speech, and anti-black racism. And yes, black lives matter, I want to just do nothing but chant it in this place till we all stand together and say, “black lives matter.”

What we’re seeing in the murder of George Floyd, exactly as my colleague from the Bloc Québécois said, “not a victim, but another victim. Victims after victims after victims.” We must not forget their names.

When was the first time a black man was killed where his last words were “I can’t breathe.” It was 2014, Eric Garner. His mother did interviews this week; imagine what she’s going through. As George Floyd dies also on video, saying “I can’t breathe,” and the people who are stopping him from breathing, his killers, are the police.

In the case of Eric Garner, the police were fired but never charged. George Floyd’s murder, at least there’s one killer who has been charged. But it doesn’t do anything to ease the pain. Nor does it, as my friend from the NDP said, quench the thirst for justice. Because that’s what people are crying out for, they’re crying out for justice.

And the names just keep cascading. I had to look it up, I thought, “When was it, that poor young man who was jogging, was murdered by the father and son in the pick up truck?” Ahmed Aubrey was murdered by a retired policeman and his son, out in their pick up truck, in February, that’s when it was.

Breonna Taylor, in Louisville, murdered in her own home by cops who thought she might have drugs there and they searched and she didn’t.

What on earth allows this to keep happening over and over again? I looked at a site called Just Security, and I thought these words from reporter Mia Bloom, who happens to be Canadian, were pretty clear, of what puts you at risk of death in the United States of America, but also Canada: “Driving while black, jogging while black, reporting while black, bird watching while black, selling lemonade while black.” can get you killed. And the killers far too often are wearing a uniform.

If there’s one thing scarier than a white supremacist with a gun, it’s a white supremacist with a gun, in uniform.

I want to go back to the words “reporting while black,” because this is something else we’ve seen the last four days that we’ve never seen before, which is the deliberate targeting of reporters by police. Over 100 reporters have been injured in the United States over the last four days. One woman lost her eye; these are serious injuries. Sometimes reporters get in the way of riots and what not, but this is different, this is another element all together.

And it seems in this place, when we have speeches and pretty words to denounce racism, we do it in kind of a cycle. So, after Colten Boushie’s murder, we talked about anti-Indigenous racism. We talked about the threat to our Indigenous brothers and sisters across this country who also face racism on a daily basis. We talk about the fact that they are disproportionately in our prisons.

Just within the last day, the report came down on the killing of Dale Culver, in Prince George, at the hands of the Prince George RCMP. This Indigenous young man was 35 years old. Pepper sprayed till he couldn’t breathe. There will be charges in this case, that’s the recommendation that just came down.

We kind of go through sequential moments where we can say, “Islamophobia is not okay.” Six muslims at prayer in Quebec City were murdered. We can all stand up and say, “we denounce Islamophobia,” or we can denounce anti-trans violence against individual trans people who are murdered. We denounce antisemitism when we see a scrawled anti-semitic grafitti on the door of an Ottawa rabbi’s home. We denounce it. But can we get to the root of it? Anti-asian racism. We’re seeing it on the increase as the Honourable Leader of the Conservative Party mentioned in recent days.

We’re seeing all this happen, and we want to be good allies. We want to be a good ally to the family of Regis Korchinski-Paquet. We want to be a good ally.

I am a woman of privilege, I got it by the mere random accident of birth. I was born to white parents. Privilege is being white. We have to study our privilege, we have to acknowledge our privilege. And we have to know, as the Prime Minister said, “we’re not perfect, but it doesn’t give us a free pass to ignore that we have to stand up, we have to speak out.”

I’m sitting so close to our friend here, our minister, Ahmed Hussein. I say your name out loud, but your Tweets brought me to tears. That this fine man faces racism in his own riding. That his three beautiful black boys have people turn away or clutch their purse or they’re a little worried when the kids are around. It sounds exactly like what the Prime Minister just called “the microaggressions that many of us may not even see.”

So we can look at our own conduct and our own behaviour. So in looking at these things, there’s something I want to say. We look at all these things that are happening and we wonder, what can we do about it? When you see a bully, when you hear hate speech, we have to speak up, we have to speak out.

And we have to say that the President of the United States is fomenting violence, and it’s shameful. And shocking. That he would grab a bible. They cleared peaceful protesters on a Washington street with tear gas, so that Donald Trump could pose with a bible in front of an Episcopal church.

The Episcopal bishop of Washington had this to say, because she’s a good ally: “In no way do we support the president’s incendiary response to a wounded, grieving nation. In faithfulness to our Saviour who lived a life of non-violence and sacrificial love, we align ourselves with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd.”

That’s what we must do in this place. We must acknowledge and speak up for justice for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, where the report of the inquiry languishes a year later. We must stand up for justice and we must examine something very worrying: the U.S. FBI warned in 2006 that white supremacist groups were targeting police forces and joining them.

If we’re looking for real action, things that we can do in this place, I call on us to have an inquiry and an examination, to root out white supremacist groups in Canada, and identify them for what they are: a terrorist threat in our midst. And make sure they’re not in our police forces. Because if there’s one thing scarier than a white supremacist with a gun, it’s a white supremacist with a gun, in uniform.

Please, God, there are things we can do. Please, God, that we love each other, we take care of each other, regardless of the colour of our skin. Pray for the United States of America. It’s a country being ripped apart. And the ripping and the tearing is done by people who should at this very time be consoling and leading and inspiring. Pray, pray for Canada. Pray for each and every one of our beautiful black baby girls, baby boys, the Indigenous baby girls and baby boys… the Asian kid…

Wherever you look, reach out and be a good ally. Stand up and say, “with my body, I get between you and the cops.”

We have to be good allies. Right now they’re just pretty words. Thank you for listening.

Contributing Writer Elizabeth May, former Leader of the Green Party of
Canada, is the MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands.