OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says a first ministers' declaration condemning racism didn't mention systemic discrimination because not all the premiers would agree.
The statement released Thursday says firmly that all 14 first ministers oppose racism and will drive the governments they lead to fight it.
"Recognizing that one of the strengths of Canada is its diversity, first ministers condemn all forms of racism, discrimination, intolerance, and bigotry," it says in part.
"First ministers are determined to combat it — including anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, and anti-Asian racism and hate, as well as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Hate has no place in Canada and will not be tolerated."
But the statement doesn't talk about more subtle forms of discrimination, in which members of some groups are denied opportunities because of the way systems or programs are designed, without overt expressions of bigotry.
"There was not consensus on using the phrase 'systemic discrimination' or 'systemic racism,'" Trudeau said Friday. "I have been crystal clear that the federal government recognizes it in order to be able to better address it."
Trudeau wouldn't say which premiers weren't on board.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Friday that he was.
"First of all, I agree, there is systemic racism," he said in his own news conference.
"I guess the biggest concern about the letter, with all the premiers, is a letter is one thing. We all acknowledge it, and I think we've all acknowledged it in our own provinces, and three to four weeks later we're putting this letter out. We want action, and I know the prime minister wants action, too, but all the premiers are saying, 'Enough of the talking. Let's start getting action.'"
Talk is cheap, he said, and it's time to do things about racism.
Public officials such as RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and Quebec Premier Francois Legault have said publicly that they want to root out racism but have rejected the idea that there are discriminatory features inherent to their institutions.
Lucki later reversed herself with a written statement that there is indeed systemic discrimination in the Mounties, though she has had difficulty citing examples.
The national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls offered several instances in its purview a year ago, including the force's poor data on Indigenous homicide victims, gaps in dispatching in remote areas, a lack of cultural awareness among officers assigned to Inuit communities and numerous instances of Indigenous women's reports of crimes not being taken seriously.
Legault, though he set up an anti-racism task force for Quebec earlier this month, has stuck to acknowledging that there are racists in Quebec but no deeper racist structures.
"My definition of systemic racism is that there's a system in Quebec of racism and I don't think there's a system," he said at the announcement of the task force.
Trudeau said he thinks the gap in the first ministers' statement indicates how much work needs to be done to fight systemic racism.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 26, 2020.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. Previous version said 14 premiers.