OTTAWA — After decrying other provinces’ silence on Quebec's hijab ban, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is uncharacteristically coy on how he feels about the term "systemic racism."
Pallister’s office will not deny a media report that he pushed to leave out the phrase from a joint communiqué issued last week by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers.
"In order to protect the integrity of first ministers meetings, we don’t discuss such specific details of the conversations between the first ministers," Pallister spokeswoman Olivia Billson wrote Monday.
Last Friday, Trudeau said he wasn’t able to get consensus from premiers on including the words "systemic racism" in a joint, 318-word statement on anti-racism. The prime minister refused to point out which provinces held back during the Thursday phone call.
Quebec newspaper Le Devoir reported sources familiar with the discussion said Pallister was reluctant to include that phrasing (along with Quebec Premier François Legault, who had already publicly eschewed the term).
Without describing its sources, the newspaper claimed Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe both were reluctant to use that term, but ultimately changed course during last Thursday’s call.
Kenney's office said he "did not object to the term being included in the first ministers’ declaration;" Moe's staff said he "acknowledges systemic racism and had no concerns regarding inclusion in the joint statement."
Yet, it’s unclear whether Pallister was reluctant to include the term. His office wouldn’t clarify to Le Devoir last week, and also would not specify to the Free Press on Monday.
"It is important to note that the statement that was publicly released was a consensus statement," wrote Billson, noting the communiqué said the premiers "condemn all forms of racism," which she said thus includes systemic racism.
She noted Pallister's advocacy against Quebec Bill 21, which forbids promotions and new hirings for teachers, judges and police officers who wear hijabs, turbans and kippas.
Pallister had tried in vain a year ago to get other premiers to condemn the legislation.
"When your neighbours' rights are taken away or threatened, you shouldn't ignore that. Because when you do, you deserve to lose your own, quite frankly," Pallister said in comments he echoed on national television.
Anti-racism advocates have argued in recent weeks it’s important for public institutions to fess up to systemic racism and use that term, as it acknowledges institutions have structures that prevent equality, instead of just a few bad apples.
Among those pushing for institutions to embrace the term is Manitoba Sen. Murray Sinclair, who lead the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada on residential schools. He offered media his own definition earlier this month:
"Systemic racism is when the system itself is based upon, and founded upon, racist beliefs and philosophies and thinking, and has put in place policies and practices that literally force even the non-racists to act in a racist way."
— with files from Carol Sanders
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Updated on Monday, June 29, 2020 at 11:20 PM CDT: Fixes typo.