Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen as he pauses during a response to a question on racism during a news conference outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday June 2, 2020. As long-standing anger about discrimination boils over in the United States, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canadians must recognize there is systemic racism in their own country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Trudeau avoids questions about anti-racism protesters dispersed for Trump photo-op

Prime minister says racism is an issue Canadians must tackle at home, too

Canada’s prime minister on Tuesday (June 2) avoided commenting on a highly controversial presidential photo-op south of the border that saw anti-racism protesters teargassed and shot with rubber bullets the night before.

U.S. President Donald Trump emerged from the White House Rose Garden on Monday night, not long after officers had marched forward, confronting protesters as many held up their hands, saying, “Don’t shoot.”

Law enforcement officers forced protesters back, firing tear gas and deploying flash bangs into the crowd to disperse them from the park. The scene, which played on live television, showed police in the nation’s capital clearing young men and women gathered legally in a public park on a sunny evening. The protest in front of the White House was one of a series across the United States since George Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck. A family-ordered autopsy found Floyd died of asphyxiation, and the police officer has been charged with murder.

READ MORE: George Floyd asphyxiated by sustained pressure: family autopsy

With smoke still wafting and isolated tussles continuing in the crowd, Trump emerged in the Rose Garden for a dramatic split-screen of his own creation.

“I am your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters,” he declared, before demanding that governors across the nation deploy the National Guard “in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets.” And he warned that, if they refused, he would deploy the United States military “and quickly solve the problem for them.”

Trump then walked toward St. John’s Church, the landmark pale yellow building where every president, including Trump, has prayed. It had been damaged Sunday night in a protest fire.

Trump, standing alone in front of cameras, then raised a black-covered Bible for reporters to see.

“We have a great country,” Trump said. “Greatest country in the world.”

He didn’t talk about Floyd, the church or the damage it had suffered, or the peaceful protesters police had cleared. He also didn’t mention the coronavirus pandemic, the parallel crisis that has continued to ravage the nation as Trump campaigns for a second presidential term. And then he invited his attorney general, national security adviser, chief of staff, press secretary and defence secretary to join him for another round of photos before he walked back across the park to the White House.

At one point, Trump stopped and pumped his fist in the air at National Guard members in the distance.

“We’re going to keep it nice and safe,” he said.

Religious leaders slammed the president’s photo-op; one of them calling it “one of the most flagrant misuses of religion I have ever seen.”

When asked about Trump’s actions during his Tuesday press conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took a long pause before responding.

“We all watch in horror and consternation what is happening in the United States,” Trudeau said.

“It is a time for us as Canadians to recognize we too have our challenges. Black Canadians and racialized Canadians live racism as their reality every single day.”

Protests against racism have spread to Canada, with some peaceful, as in Vancouver, and some turning violent, as in Montreal.

PHOTOS: Thousands gather at Vancouver Art Gallery to protest racism

“My job as a Canadian prime minister is to stand up for Canadians, to stand up for our interests, to stand up for our values.”

(WATCH: Trudeau responds to questions about Trump’s actions. Skip to 18:30 mark)

Trudeau was also asked if he considered colonial aggressions against Canada’s Indigenous peoples to be genocide.

“Many people have talked about cultural genocide, used very strong words for it and I think there are very strong words necessary to talk about the continued injustice towards Indigenous peoples that is ongoing in Canada,” he said, speaking of the importance of partnerships and reconciliation movements.

“There are lots of words that can be used, we need to use them and we need to move forward.”


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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