'Canadians expect a PM to stand up for their values': Trudeau joins Black Lives Matter protest after Trump tensions

Update: June 5 4:00 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an appearance at the Ottawa demonstration at Parliament Hill on Friday, along with Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development.

Trudeau can be seen taking a knee, while protesters also shouted “stand up to Trump” while he was in the crowd.

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This comes after a week of fielding questions about how the federal government would support the anti-racism movements in Canada and around the world.

Two days after the pause heard across Canada, when then prime minister took over 20 seconds of silence before answering a question on U.S. President Donald Trump using the military to clear protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets, reporters called for Justin Trudeau to explain his approach.

At a press conference on Thursday, the prime minister echoed his earlier statement about Canadians watching the U.S. with “consternation and horror” after being asked to provide context for the long pause days earlier.

“Canadians continue to watch with consternation and horror what’s going in the United States right now,” Trudeau said. “But that can’t keep us from looking very carefully at our own systems and the work that we need to do to make sure that the millions of Canadians who face discrimination and intolerance every single day in their lived reality get better support.”

When asked if his pause should be interpreted as a silent condemnation of Trump, Trudeau did not answer the questions directly but said the prime minister should always stand up for Canadian values.

“Canadians expect a prime minister to stand up for their values and their interests, and that’s what I’ve done in my entire time as prime minister, whether it be with the United States or with other countries around the world,” he said.

The prime minister’s comments come after NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Canada cannot be a “passive bystander” to racism.

“What president Trump is doing is reprehensible,” Singh said. “He is acting in a way which is fuelling racism, he is acting in a way which is going to put people’s lives at risk, and it is wrong and it needs to be called out.”

“I think the prime minister has an important role, Canada has an important role, to call out when things that are so heinous are going on...what prime minister Trudeau did was wrong, he shouldn’t have been silent.”

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet has also criticized the prime minister for his “strategic silence” to questions about Trump.

“I think the responsible thing to do was not to calculate in his mind 20 seconds of...strategic silence and instead say what he didn’t have the courage to say,” Blanchet said. “The President of the United States, once again, is throwing oil on a dangerous fire against people, most on them in a peaceful fashion, who express sadness, indignation, sorrow, anger, all of that being entirely legitimate.”

When asked directly why he will not openly condemn the U.S., Trudeau said he will continue to “fight against racism” by defending racialized Canadians and “supporting people all around the world.”

“We have done much hand-in-hand with the black community over these past years, supporting them on reducing barriers but we recognize there is much more to do here in Canada,” the prime minister said.

‘We recognize in Canada that there are systemic discrimination problems’

With regards to issues of systemic discrimination in Canada, the prime minister said there is “an awful lot of work to do in the country.”

“I have said from the very beginning that Canada is not immune or exempt from the things that we see going on in the United States,” Trudeau said. “Racialized Canadians, Indigenous Canadians have long suffered systemic discrimination in every part of this country and even though we have taken significant steps over the past years, there is much more to do.”

At the press conference on Thursday, the prime minister was asked if he would consider cutting the RCMP’s budget, following Black Lives Matter advocates calling for the defunding of police and Los Angeles pledging to cut US$250 million from the LAPD budget to “invest in jobs, in health, in education and in healing.”

“I think there are many different paths towards making a better country and we need to explore the range of them,” Trudeau said. “We need to look at what’s appropriate in Canada, how we can best keep Canadians safe and how we can best address the systemic racism that exists in far too many parts of our country, and far too many of our institutions.”