(Video from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s speech at New York University Thursday. Link to full speech here.)
APTN National News
The NDP pounced on the words of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau following his appearance at New York University on Thursday where he said Canada didn’t have a “colonial past” but “engaged in colonial behaviours.”
NDP MP Niki Ashton raised the issue during question period Friday, but Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett was cut off by the House of Commons deputy speaker as she was about to clarify Trudeau’s remarks.
During a speech to students at New York University, Trudeau was asked a question about Canadian peacekeeping and he responded by saying Canada could play a key role around the globe because the country didn’t have the “baggage” of other Western nations.
“Canada has an awful lot to offer—whether it’s bilingual officers, whether it’s specialists, whether it’s capacity to engage in the world in difficult places without some of the baggage that so many other Western countries have,” said Trudeau, according to a video of the speech. “Whether it’s a colonial past or perceptions of American imperialism that is…a critique that is out there.”
NDP MP Romeo Saganash said Trudeau’s statement reminded him of what former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper said during a press conference at a G20 meeting in 2009. During that press conference, Harper said Canada had “no history of colonialism” and was later blasted by First Nation leaders.
“When people repeat that this government is just like the previous government, I am starting to believe that,” said Saganash. “I don’t know how you clarify that kind of statement. It was said, it’s pretty clear the way he said it. So, I don’t think there is any way to clarify that: colonialism, is colonialism, is colonialism.”
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office said no one should misinterpret Trudeau’s comments as some sort of “walk-back” from the prime minister’s commitment to renew the nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples. PMO spokesperson Cameron Ahmad said the prime minister was not referring to Indigenous peoples in his comment, but rather discussing Canada’s foreign policy.
“He was not asserting that Canada has had no colonial past with regard to its treatment of Indigenous people, he was talking about Canada’s foreign policy and its existence as a country with regard to the rest of the world, which is obviously different than other Western countries in recent history,” said Ahmad. “Nothing has change in our commitment in re-establishing a nation-to-nation relationship.”
Earlier in the New York University appearance, Trudeau was asked about Canada’s relationship to Indigenous peoples and the prime minister said Canada “engaged in colonial behaviours” which created a legacy still felt today.
“We have consistently marginalized, engaged in colonial behaviors, in destructive behaviors, assimilationist behaviors that have left a legacy of challenges to a large portion of people who live in Canada, our Indigenous peoples,” said Trudeau, in his response.
Trudeau’s reference to colonialism in his university speech first surfaced Thursday in an article by the Vancouver Observer which quoted Trudeau saying, “We don’t have the baggage of colonialization or American imperialism.”
While a paraphrase from Trudeau’s speech, it was reported in quotation marks and caused a flurry on Twitter.