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Canada's Trudeau At A Loss For Words On Trump's Handling Of Unrest In U.S.

Black Lives Matter rallies have been held in Toronto and in cities across Canada in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.
Arindam Shivaani
NurPhoto via Getty Images
Black Lives Matter rallies have been held in Toronto and in cities across Canada in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

It's not often that Justin Trudeau is caught speechless.

But when the Canadian prime minister was asked what he thought of President Trump's actions to quash a wave of protests across the U.S., Trudeau paused before responding – for 21 seconds as the cameras recorded his awkward silence.

During a Tuesday news conference in front of his Ottawa residence, the prime minister fielded this question from a reporter:

"You've been reluctant to comment about the words and actions of the U.S. president. But we do have now Donald Trump calling for military action against protesters. We saw protesters tear-gassed yesterday to make way for a presidential photo-op. I'd like to ask you what you think about that. And, if you don't want to comment, what message do you think you're sending?"

Before answering, the prime minister, sporting a beard and shaggy hair since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, glanced down at his lectern, opened his mouth as if to speak — then paused, shifted his weight and uttered a barely audible "um" as birds chirped in the background.

"We all watch in horror and consternation what's going on in the United States," he finally said. "It is a time to pull people together, but it is a time to listen.

"It is a time to learn what injustices continue despite progress over years and decades. But it is a time for us as Canadians to recognize that we, too, have our challenges," he said.

"That black Canadians and racialized Canadians face discrimination as a lived reality every single day," Trudeau continued. "There is systemic discrimination in Canada, which means our systems treat Canadians of color, Canadians who are racialized, as differently than they do others."

Trudeau typically displays reticence on Trump's actions, keeping in mind the centrality of the U.S.-Canada relationship and its huge cross-border economic interdependence.

Canada in recent days has seen relatively small, peaceful protests in solidarity with U.S. demonstrations that first erupted last week in the wake of the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. By contrast, the protests in U.S. cities have typically been much larger and have frequently devolved into clashes between police and activists.

The Canadian protests supporting Black Lives Matter have sprung up in Montreal, Halifax, Toronto and Regina, the provincial capital of Saskatchewan.

At the protest in Regina on Tuesday, when a few hundred people gathered, one of the organizers, Faith Olanipekun, told the CBC that, "A lot of people here think that Canada isn't racist."

"So it's important for us to come out, voice our concerns and let people know that we are suffering in Canada just as much as people in the U.S. are suffering," Olanipekun said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.