'I have never felt safe': Nunavut MP accuses parliamentary security of racial profiling in farewell speech
OTTAWA -- In a scathing farewell speech, Nunavut NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq blasted the federal government for inaction on Indigenous issues and accused parliamentary security of racial profiling.
During a series of speeches by MPs not seeking re-election, Qaqqaq said federal security frequently stopped her to the point where she did not feel safe on Parliament Hill. Her comments have sparked reaction from her colleagues, who spoke to the work still needed to be done in Ottawa to make Parliament a welcoming place for a diversity of voices.
“Every time I walk on House of Commons grounds, speak in these chambers, I’m reminded every step of the way (that) I don’t belong here,” she said during her speech.
“Since being elected, I expect to be stopped by security at my workplace. I’ve had security jog after me in hallways, nearly put their hands on me, or racial profile me as a member of Parliament.”
Qaqqaq added that she would often be reduced to tears on the elevator or in the bathroom until she could regain composure.
“I have never felt safe or protected in my position, especially within the House of Commons,” she said.
“I shouldn’t be afraid of going into work, no one should be afraid of going into work.”
Responding to a CTVNews.ca request for comment, the Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS) that guards Parliament Hill said that it is “committed to deliver on its mission of security effectively while ensuring that all members of the parliamentary community can enjoy a safe, welcoming, and inclusive environment.”
In an email, the PPS said that it has “extended an invitation to Ms. Qaqqaq to discuss the matter further.”
Qaqqaq also accused the federal government of inaction on Indigenous issues, particularly issues that pertain to the Inuk community, such as food security, affordability and housing.
“During my time in this chamber, I have heard so many pretty words like ‘reconciliation,’ ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion,’” she said. “I have been called courageous, strong and brave by people outside of my party, but let me be brutally honest, nice words with no action hurt when they are uttered by those with power over the federal institution and refuse to take action.”
Qaqqaq, 27, was elected in Canada’s geographically largest riding in 2019. She stepped away from her post in the fall after a tour of housing in her home territory left her depressed and overwhelmed, she told The Canadian Press over the weekend.
In May, Qaqqaq announced she would not be seeking re-election.
“I don’t belong here, but my presence -- I hope -- is starting to crack the foundations of this very federal institution that started colonizing Inuit barely 70 years ago,” she said on Tuesday.
“I’m looking forward to a time when people like me could belong here, a time we can be here.”
This is not the first time a sitting MP has said they felt racially profiled on parliamentary grounds.
Celina Caesar-Chavannes, a Black woman and former Liberal MP representing Whitby, Ont.,wrote on Facebook in 2017 that security did not hold the door for her to enter the building where her office is located, despite working at the location for a year and was later told she needed a pass to get back in the building.
In an interview with CTV News, Caesar-Chavannes said she was “heartbroken” but “empowered” by Qaqqaq’s speech, saying that while she empathizes, she wishes she didn’t have to.
“When I was speaking up about issues that I was having on Parliament Hill… I was very clear that I didn't want another young person or another person coming in after me, to be surprised about what exists on Parliament Hill. How othering it is, how brutal it is to individuals who are not seen as being politicians, and so I'm really disappointed that she had to go through that,” she said.
“There’s no other MP that looks like Mumilaaq, there was no other MP during the 42nd Parliament that looked like me, and yet security can't manage to remember who we are, and that gives a particular sense of un-belonging, that particular sense of otherness that I don't think people quite understand unless they've experienced it, and that needs to shift.”
'A CALL TO ACTION'
Responding to her comments, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said that “it’s a reflection of still who we are as a country that MP Qaqqaq still feels that way,” and that all MPs should feel badly that this has been her experience.
Further, he said that while they have had differences of opinion, Qaqqaq’s perspective is important and she should feel safe coming to the Hill to do her work and represent her constituents.
“That’s happening where she has parliamentary privilege, which is the right and duty to speak on behalf of the people that she represents… it is a sad reflection of where we are. It's unacceptable. And it shouldn't be that way, yet it is,” Miller said.
In a tweet, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner said it was, “a call to action for all of us.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Qaqqaq’s speech raised “a fundamental question” about who MPs have been and should be going forward, and said he’ll be continuing to apply pressure to the House of Commons to become a more welcoming place for Indigenous people, racialized people, and women.
Singh said that the concerns she’s raised should be immediately addressed by the House, but also the federal government has a continuing responsibility to address the systemic discriminatory actions of institutions like Parliament by taking seriously reconciliation and implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.
With files from CTV News’ Annie Bergeron-Oliver