TORONTO — Premier Doug Ford refused to say Tuesday if he believes racism is a systemic problem in Ontario.
Liberal MPP Michael Coteau raised the question at the legislature, noting that Ford declined to answer the same question shortly after he took office in 2018.
“I’ll ask you again: Do you believe that systemic racism and anti-Black racism is real? And if so, what are you going to do ... to combat these forms of racism?” Coteau asked.
“Please have the decency, premier, to answer this question. You owe it to so many people.”
Coteau’s question comes in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in the United States last week, and the days of demonstrations against anti-Black racism that have followed it.
Ford passed the question to Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, the cabinet minister in charge of safety, policing and corrections.
“I was very honoured when the premier appointed me solicitor general and with that responsibility came the anti-racism directorate,” Jones said. “There is nowhere in Ontario where hate and anti-Semitism and [racism] is appropriate.”
Coteau’s Liberal colleague MPP Mitzie Hunter then asked Ford what concrete steps he would take to eliminate racism in Ontario.
She said that Black people are “heartbroken” about Floyd’s death and noted that similar incidents have happened in Ontario. Patrick Shand, for example, was killed by security guards outside a Scarborough, Ont. Loblaws in 1999.
“He too said, ‘I can’t breathe.’ And moments later, he stopped struggling and he died,” Hunter said.
‘Nothing but disgusting’
The premier took that question and said his government has no tolerance for racism.
“What we saw down in the United States, what happened to Mr. Floyd, was nothing but disgusting,” Ford said. “And I think my friend over there knows … my family has always stood up for the Black community.”
He said Ontario is the “most diversified” jurisdiction in North America.
“That’s why 99 per cent of us, we all get along. There’s always bad apples. There’s always bad apples no matter what profession it is.”
Coteau said that the premier missed the point.
“I have no doubt that he has good relationships with people in his community that are Black,” the Don Valley East MPP told HuffPost Canada.
“This is not about his relationship with Black people. This is about the government’s response to a systemic issue based on data and science.”
Coteau said that Ford’s government has failed to act on anti-racism legislation he championed as minister of social services and has cut programs like legal aid and tuition funding that were helping racialized Ontarians.
This is not about his relationship with Black people. MPP Michael Coteau
“They’ve cut so many programs and services that were working to address the inequities that exist in our society.”
Ford’s spokesperson Ivana Yelich did not respond when HuffPost asked by email why the premier didn’t take Coteau’s question.
A spokesperson for the solicitor general said that the government has no tolerance for racism and pointed out it has not cut $4.9 million in funding for the anti-racism directorate, as had previously been reported.
“The Anti-Racism Directorate is leading strategic initiatives to advance anti-racism work across government with a plan, including through the 3-year anti-racism strategy,” Stephen Warner told HuffPost by email. “The strategy focuses on race-based data collection, removing systemic barriers, building anti-racism competency, and fostering trust with communities.”
Ford was also asked Tuesday about U.S. President Donald Trump’s response to the deadly protests in his country. Trump had his photo taken at a church Monday after police and military cleared peaceful protesters there with tear gas and stun grenades.
The premier has expressed support for Trump in the past.
“I’m being 100 per cent honest; I don’t have time to watch the news,” Ford said at a press conference when he was asked about Trump’s handling of the crisis.
“But it’s like night and day compared to Canada and the U.S … Thank God, thank God that we’re different than the United States. We don’t have the systemic, deep roots that they have had for years.”
Questions raised about death in Toronto
Earlier Tuesday, he did not answer a question about a police-related death in Ontario.
NDP MPP Kevin Yarde tried to ask Ford about a Toronto woman who fell to her death from a balcony with police officers present. Her death is being investigated by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the group that looks into deaths, serious injuries or alleged sexual assaults that happen with police present.
“This weekend, over 5,000 people from across the GTHA marched for Regis Korchinski-Paquet and against anti-Black racism and I was honoured to march along with them,” the Brampton North MPP said.
“They know that Ms. Korchinski-Paquet’s death is not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern of Black deaths that include D’Andre Campbell in Brampton and countless others … People do not trust that the SIU in its current form will bring justice to her family and the community.”
He asked how the premier will make sure the investigation is independent and brings justice for Korchinski-Paquet’s family.
Ford also passed that question to Jones.
“I completely understand why family, friends and community are wanting answers and are demanding answers and they have every right to do that,” she said.
“But I will not make assumptions and jump to conclusions. We need to let the independent SIU do their job.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.