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'Vision for a just and inclusive Canada': Metro talks with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh

The new NDP leader gives us his thoughts on carding, climate change, cycling, opioids and style.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh

Dave Chan / For Metro

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh

Jagmeet Singh was elected leader of the NDP in a first-ballot victory this past week. He is the first visible minority to lead a major federal party.

Metro sat down to talk carding, racism, climate change, cycling and why progressive voters should pick him over Justin Trudeau in 2019.

Metro: You made a specific mention in your speech on Sunday about ending carding. How would you do that?

Singh: I said specifically, I would like to see a Canada where no one is stopped because of the colour of their skin, for no reason basically.

We have a couple tools at our hands. The RCMP is in the jurisdiction of the federal government and to end this practice there is a couple of key tools.

One is providing a rights notification, so that as soon as you’re in contact with the RCMP, you’re immediately provided with a notification that you don’t have to speak with the RCMP. If you don’t want to be here you can leave.

People have the right to walk away, they just don’t know that and then the second thing that can happen is a receipt. These are things that other great activists and legal minds have thought up in terms of strategies to end improper stops.  

The receipting process is that a reason is given, ‘I stopped you today because you match a description’ or something. That way if someone is stopped multiple times they have a recourse. They can look at the receipts and say ‘is it possible I matched the description four days in a row?’

They can then submit a complaint or review the information and say was there actually a bonafide reason

On border security, we know there are practices still in place where people are flagged for reasons that aren’t based on some concrete objective criteria.

We know there are things like the no fly list where you have kids who are two or three years old because of their name. That’s clearly a broken system if someone makes it to this list, without looking at the fact of their age. A two year-old should not be on the no-fly list.

Metro: How do you make that trickle down to the police forces you don’t have jurisdiction over, because that’s most of them?

Singh: The federal government is always in the position of providing guidance and leadership. Once you establish the protocol at a federal level that would provide leadership at different levels.

Just the fact that in Ontario we were able to push through this issue of ending discriminatory stops by the police, it encouraged other provinces.

There is a tremendous leadership role that the federal government plays.

There are other opportunities for training, for sharing of practices, for showing the evidence that this is actually a more effective use of resources when we stop people based on some objective criteria. That’s a better way to use the resources that we have.

Metro: Has it happened to you?

Singh: Yeah. I have been stopped a bunch of times

Metro: I have no experience with that. What does it feel like?

Singh: What happens is that when you’re stopped by the police as a person of colour, it’s a scary process, because there is a tension, there is an aggression. It’s an intimidating experience.

When you’re stopped again and again in your own community and you have not done anything, you’re not under specific investigation. You’re just being stopped for who you are, it makes you feel there is something wrong with you for being you.

You feel a sense of shame almost that there is something wrong, that I don’t belong in this community even though I am from this community.

Jagmeet Singh is the first visible minority to lead a major national party.

Dave Chan / For Metro

Jagmeet Singh is the first visible minority to lead a major national party.

Metro: You’re the first visibly minority major party leader. How do you think that changes Canadian politics?  

Singh: I hope in a significant way. I really want to acknowledge that I am only here today because other people have dreamed of breaking other barriers.

Anytime someone broke a barrier, it opened up everyone else’s eyes to the potential that they could realize their dreams, that there weren’t barriers that would limit that.

Folks like Rosemary Brown the first African Canadian Woman MP, she also ran for the leadership, probably one of the earliest people of colour or racialized people to run for a leadership role.

There are incredible women and men that pushed barriers and I am hoping now that the biggest honour that I have is that if I can inspire a new generation of leaders to think of themselves as leaders in their own field, sectors, communities, or even in politics. Than I will have done something meaningful.

I think that is the significance. The ability to inspire new leaders that would never have thought of themselves, people from equity seeking backgrounds that would never have thought of themselves as leaders and will change the face of who can be a leader and hopefully the answer will be anyone.

Metro: Is Canada tolerant enough to elect a Sikh man Prime Minister?

Singh: Absolutely. Canada is a place of incredible generosity in terms of generosity of spirit. People really care about each other. There is a really strong sentiment of taking care of your neighbour. People have an open spirit, I feel.

Metro: There are still obviously racists in Canada. You talked about the importance of being a symbol. Do you fear at all that being a visible minority, national party leader that you’re going to have racists come at you and that is going to send a tough message for that next generation?

Singh: Anytime you take a risk there is always this potential backlash and there will be, I’m certain, different incidents that will happen, where people will frame things unfairly or I’ll be put in a position that is unfair because of the way I look or my identity or the colour of my skin.

I think there will be for more positive experiences and the net positive will inspire people — there will be struggles, there are always struggles — but we can achieve so much more. I think that hopeful optimism is going to carry the day.

Metro: You talked on the campaign about the need to have a national cycling plan. What does that look like?

Singh: There are two approaches to this. One is we have incredible urban centres across Canada that need actual funding from the federal government, they need partnership from the federal government to build the infrastructure to make it easier to cycle.

Studies are showing, research is showing, public opinion polls are showing that people think it’s dangerous in cities. If you made it safer people would more likely cycle. We have a lot of cities that are ideal cycling cities, flat, not too much elevation it would be a great way to get around.

Active transport gives us a solution to two problems. It gives us a way to move around, but it also helps with health and fitness.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh

Dave Chan / For Metro

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh

The second part is a cultural shift. There is a very clear culture in Europe around cycling, it’s something that is celebrated and people think as normal.

In North America and particularly in America there hasn’t be the same culture of thinking of cycling as a viable alternative for getting around the city.

I think this national cycling strategy has two roles. One if that cultural shift of saying that cycling is a great way to get around for health, for fitness for the environment and then we need the funding to bulid it up

Metro: The cities are doubling investment in infrastructure, is it just about identifying money within that for cycling?

Singh: It’s a strategy too. If you just put money into infrastructure, but there isn’t a strategy behind it. If we want to build cities that are more liveable, if we want to increase connectivity, if we want to look at addressing active transport than there is a certain strategy that you have to implement.

If it’s just about infrastructure without a strategy then there won’t be a cohesiveness to the infrastructure that is being built.

Metro: You also talked on the campaign trail about decriminalizing drugs. Why do you want to do that and specifically why do you think that would help with the opioid crisis.

Singh: It would definitely help with the opioid crisis let me start with that. The opioid crisis is a crisis first and foremost. People are dying, thousands of people are dying and our approach as a nation to this crisis is still the criminalization approach.

People who posses very serious substances that are life-threatening, that seriously harm them, our approach is they are committing a criminal offence and they need to be charged.

I have experience in the criminal justice system as a lawyer. If you look at the people who are arrested for possession of a personal amount, not trafficking, but personal amount of a controlled substance folks are either facing issues of mental health, addiction, or poverty.

These three things, mental health, addiction or poverty, to me they don’t sound like a criminal justice problem. They sound like a social justice problem.

Why are we trying to solve a social justice problem with a criminal justice tool? Let’s solve it with a social justice tool. Let’s solve it with healthcare. We need harm reduction. We need rehabilitation

If our goal is to reduce the amount of deaths and reduce the amount of use of these dangerous susbtances, let’s implement policies that achieve that goal.

In general I think, it’s a colossal waste of resources. It’s incredibly expensive to prosecute someone, to incarcerate someone and we’re putting so much resources into something that’s not making our society any healthier, any safer.

I am advocating something that Portugal has already done and it’s very clear that it’s a decriminalization. I am not suggesting anything beyond that at this point.

Metro: I think in the next election we will have this battle between yourself and Mr. Trudeau over progressive younger voters. Why shouldn’t they vote for him again?

Singh: He talked about a lot of issues that people really cared about, people were very hopeful, but he just didn’t achieve or implement or have action on any of these things.

A lot of young people care about their environment very deeply, the environment is incredibly important to a lot of young people, they get that this planet is a precious place.

They want to see action and we just heard the environment commissioner very openly saying that the Liberal government is not going to achieve our Paris Agreement targets.

We’re actually not even going to achieve the Conservatives targets, we are going to be worse off. That’s not action that people really wanted.

On electoral reform, that’s another issue. It’s not just this vague notion of how to change your democracy. People wanted their voices better reflected in Ottawa, that’s what it’s about.

A proportional representation model would ensure that people’s voice is heard more in Ottawa. These are not just the issues there is the sense of betrayal behind them.

There was this hope, this desire of some serious significant steps forward to making Canada a better place and I think that good will has been eroded.

What I propose is not just talking about these, but action on these issues. We will implement proportional representation to give people a voice. We will implement action on climate change, so we actually not only achieve our targets nationally, but are leaders internationally.

Dave Chan/For Metro

Metro: So to those millennial leaders, your pitch is going to be I will do what Justin Trudeau said he would do.

Singh: Yes, but not just do what he said he would do, but I have a vision for a just and inclusive Canada, which is what people wanted. They had a vision for a better Canada and I will work toward implementing that.

And one last piece is on precarious work and this is a big piece.

We know there are going to be changes, we know there is going to be disruption because of technology, but to have a government say just get used to it is not sensitive to the realities that people face.

You can just get used to disruption in work if you think of work as a hobby than big deal your hobby changes. But if your work means your livelihood and I don’t think that’s something that Justin Trudeau gets.

I was the sole income owner in my twenties. People have faced far worse and people continue to face something far worse. I was lucky to get a professional degree and support and have a professional salary.

We have to find strategies to be in front of these changes, to make sure people are protected, that workers are protected, that their rights are protected, that we create a climate where people are not falling through the cracks.

This is the first generation ever where people have less opportunity than their parents.

Metro: You have been talked about as one of the most well-dressed politicians. How long does it take you to get ready in the morning? How much thought goes into it?

Singh: I have a bunch of classics, so I have a bunch of really well-tailored fitted suits, so I don’t take too much time on that.

I feel like I don’t want to give away my style secrets, but it’s pretty obvious. I do always have a white shirt and solid tie. It looks crisp and it’s kind of simple. My pop is always my turban, so I have a bright turban and I can tie it really fast.

I am pretty low maintenance.

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