Trudeau speaks out about racism in Canada, pledges expedited financial support for cities

 

At a June 1 press conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed ongoing protests and riots in both Canada and the U.S., emphasizing the fact that anti-Black racism (and racism directed at other communities) is prevalent in Canada and must be fought. 

Trudeau also promised to make $2.2 billion in gas tax funding available to municipalities immediately. 

Referring to demonstrations held in both Canada and the U.S. to protest police brutality, Trudeau said the footage of the protests is "having an impact here at home." 

"For far too many Canadians, the images are all too familiar. As a country, we can't pretend racism doesn't exist here. Anti-Black racism is real, subconscious bias is real, it happens here in Canada." 

Over the weekend, protests—some violent—continued in numerous U.S. cities following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died after a white police officer placed his knee on his neck for nine minutes during an incident in Minneapolis. Floyd's death also prompted a protest (which attracted some destructive agitators) in Montreal on Sunday, May 31.

On May 30, thousands of people also came together in Toronto to protest anti-Black racism and demand answers in the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Black woman who fell from her 24th-storey balcony while police were in her apartment. 

The Special Investigations Unit is currently investigating Korchinski-Paquet's death. 

"We saw thousands gather to join protests against anti-Black racism. To young Black Canadians, I hear you when you say you are anxious and angry and that this brings back painful experiences that you've faced. Your government will always stand with you. We will keep taking meaningful action to fight racism and discrimination in every form," Trudeau said. 

"No parent should have to explain to their children that they or their friends might face racism, it's past time for this to change. As leaders and allies, we must do hard work to listen and learn and make sure that everyone is safe and accepted. That includes journalists who do work on the front lines to expose the truth and tell stories we need to hear. We need to work to build a fair, better, more equitable country for all." 

At the press conference, Trudeau also announced that the federal government is rushing the aforementioned $2.2 billion in expected infrastructure funding to Canada's cities and towns.

He said sending gas-tax funds months sooner than planned should ease municipalities' cash flow concerns, but acknowledged that more needs to be done. Normally, payments are made in two instalments to over 3,600 communities, first in the summer and then later in the year.

Trudeau said the money can be used for construction projects to meet local infrastructure needs and put people to work.

Municipalities have seen steep losses in revenues through the COVID-19 pandemic as fewer people pay for transit or parking, and recreation centres stay closed without programs to fill local coffers. The $2.2 billion is much less than municipalities say they need.

Toronto alone says it's facing a $1.5 billion shortfall this fiscal year and will need to slash services. Mississauga is currently looking at a deficit of close to $60 million. 

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has estimated the hole in operating budgets across all cities at between $10 billion and $15 billion over the next six months, depending on the severity and duration of the pandemic-related shutdown.

Trudeau said today's announcement is a start and that there is more to be done to support cities, specifically more funding. That will have to happen in concert with provincial governments that constitutionally have responsibility for cities.

Trudeau also says that provinces will have to "step up" to help cities.

"This is just an initial measure that brings forward money that the cities were going to get six months from now, anyway, but there is a need right now for liquidity, for support as they deal with this COVID crisis," Trudeau said.

"We need to do more and we will do more. But doing more needs to happen hand-in-hand with the provinces who have jurisdiction over municipalities."

With files from The Canadian Press

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