Anti-racism rally in COVID-19 era a balance of competing interests: Trudeau

Anti-racism rally in COVID-19 era a balance of competing interests: Trudeau

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday his decision to attend an anti-black racism rally even amid ongoing restrictions on gatherings related to COVID-19 was a matter of balancing important competing interests.

Trudeau was among thousands of people who flooded the streets of Ottawa Friday as part of protests around the world demanding immediate action to dismantle systemic racism.

He said watching people from his office windows in downtown Ottawa, it was important for him to send a message he was listening to their concerns.

The gatherings flouted ongoing public health restrictions on mass gatherings designed to slow the spread of COVID-19. Trudeau’s attendance, and the fact the protests weren’t stopped by authorities, have led to calls of a double standard, considering Canadian individuals and businesses have faced fines, among other repercussions, when they’ve flouted the rules.

Trudeau said he did his best to observe public health protocols, including wearing a mask and respecting physical distancing where possible.

“I recognize it is a difficult situation where we are tying to balance very important competing interests,” Trudeau said.

“But for me it was important that I be there to hear.”

Trudeau’s attendance came as many Canadians have spent months in relative isolation from friends and families, as well as their jobs, Opposition leader Andrew Scheer pointed out Monday.

“After all the hardship that people have gone through, to see the prime minister completely ignore those types of health guidelines and recommendations, I can understand why people are confused as to what advice they should be following,” Scheer said.

The protest movement was ignited after George Floyd, a black man in Minnesota, died while in police custody last month.

Video footage of a police officer kneeling on his neck for close to nine minutes, even as he said he couldn’t breathe, has now circulated online millions of times.

Since then, images and reports of Canadians, including Indigenous Peoples, being subject to violence at the hands of police have also begun circulating.

Federal public health officials said Monday they will be watching carefully for any increases in COVID-19 transmission because of the risk posed by the setting.

Dr. Theresa Tam, the chief public health officer, said people who attended the gatherings should evaluate what happened to them in the moment in terms of potential exposure to the novel coronavirus.

Tam said factors to consider include whether people were wearing masks properly and had access to hand sanitizer or handwashing facilities.

People should also monitor their symptoms, and if they think it is necessary, go get a test if the option exists in their local health area. Officials also cautioned it can take a while before exposure to the virus results in a positive test, so people should not be lulled into a false sense of security if they get a negative result.

Trudeau said finding a way to strike a balance between COVID-19 mitigation measures and allowing people freedom to express their concerns over current events is challenging.

“We have to get that balance right,” he said.

“I continue to exhort Canadians to do just that.”

While attending the protest, Trudeau had knelt down on his knee, a gesture many were making in solidarity with Floyd’s plight. The move also gained recognition in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick, then a player in the NFL, began kneeling during the American national anthem to protest anti-black racism in the United States.

Conservative leadership candidate Leslyn Lewis appeared to strike a chord with many over the weekend when she pointed out that Trudeau could ”take a knee” for the protest, but distancing restrictions have barred millions of Canadians from kneeling down in houses of worship.

Conservative MPs seized upon that theme in the House of Commons Monday, pressing the Liberals to justify Trudeau’s actions.

Lewis in turn issued an open letter to Trudeau Monday calling on him to provide the science behind decisions being made to allow protests but not gatherings like weddings or funerals.

“You have stated many times that your government makes decisions based on evidence and data,” she wrote.

“I respectfully request that you release the data you used to make your recent decision to Canadians who would like to confidently make informed decisions regarding their own health and the health of their loved ones.”

Erin O’Toole and Derek Sloan, also both running in the race, issued statements of their own Monday, blasting the hypocrisy they said was playing out.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2020.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Photo submitted/ Rita-anne Fuss
Distancing Diamond Project in Millet for mental health

Distancing Diamonds allow for social distancing community gathering.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed more than 1,000 cases over the weekend Monday afternoon. File photo
COVID-19: Central zone active cases up Monday

‘We’ve now crossed the tipping point,’ says Hinshaw

The death of 19-year-old Jacob Michael Chitze of Edmonton has now been ruled a homicide following an ongoing RCMP investigation.
UPDATE: RCMP arrest youth for second degree murder of 19-year-old Jacob Chitze

Arrest made for the murder of Jacob Michael Chitze, 19.

Pumpkins for the 46th Annual WDACS Pumpkin Ball on display at Vision Credit Union Wetaskiwin. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
46th Annual Pumpkin Ball held virtually this year

This year the pumpkins were sold over a six-day online auction.

Manny’s Motel demolition underway. Shaela Dansereau/ The Pipestone Flyer.
Manny’s Motel demolition underway

The property has been vacant since the fire that destroyed most of the structure Jan.14, 2020.

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join AUPE walk outs across the province Monday Oct. 26, 2020. Shaela Dansereau/ The Pipestone Flyer.
City of Wetaskiwin health-care workers strike in protest of province-wide cuts

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join other front line hospital workers across the province in walk-outs.

Front-line hospital workers have walked off the job at the Rimbey Hospital, and across the province. Photo Submitted
Front-line health care workers on strike across the province, including Rimbey Hospital

The strike is due to cut of 11,000 health care jobs in the province, according to AUPE

(Black Press file photo)
Maskwacis RCMP welcomes new detachment commander

The Maskwacis RCMP detachment has a new detachment commander, Inspector Leanne MacMillan.… Continue reading

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Leader of the Opposition Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday October 22, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
O’Toole tells Alberta UCP AGM Liberals were ‘late and confused’ on COVID response

He says Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has taken charge and not waited to make things happen

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Inquiry into oil and gas foes to deliver report next year: Kenney

A lawsuit filed by environmental law firm Ecojustice argues the inquiry is politically motivated

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

This photo provided by Air Force Reserve shows a sky view of Hurricane Epsilon taken by Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter team over the Atlantic Ocean taken Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.   Epsilon’s maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly as it prepares to sideswipe Bermuda on a path over the Atlantic Ocean.  The National Hurricane Center says it should come close enough Thursday, Oct. 22, evening to merit a tropical storm warning for the island.  (Air Force Reserve via AP)
Hurricane Epsilon expected to remain offshore but will push waves at Atlantic Canada

Epsilon is not expected to have any real impact on land

A voter places her absentee ballot in the ballot box, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Robert F. Bukaty
American voters living in Canada increasingly being counted in presidential race

The largest number of Canadian-based American voters cast their ballots in New York and California

Most Read