"We all watch in horror and consternation what's going on in the United States," Trudeau began after his pause. "It is a time to pull people together, but it is a time to listen"

By Sean Neumann
June 03, 2020 03:33 PM

Sometimes silence can speak louder than words.

For a few moments on Tuesday — 21 to be exact — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had none of his own words to offer when asked about President Donald Trump's response to the protests and widespread unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd.

During a press conference outside the prime minister's residence in Ottawa, a reporter asked Trudeau about Trump's threat to send the military into local communities to corral demonstrators and the decision to forcefully clear protestors from outside the White House on Monday night so Trump and his aides could walk to the nearby St. John's church.

"You've been reluctant to comment about the words and actions of the U.S. president. ... 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?" the reporter said.

The Canadian leader, 48, stood silent for 21 seconds, seeming to need that time to find the right words to respond.

Footage of the exchange quickly went viral on social media, where it was seen hundreds of thousands of times.

"We all watch in horror and consternation what's going on in the United States," Trudeau began after his pause. "It is a time to pull people together, but it is a time to listen."

Justin Trudeau, Donald Trump
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (left) and President Donald Trump in 2017

Floyd, 46, was unarmed and died after being arrested in Minneapolis on May 25. Video from the encounter shows officer Derek Chauvin kneeling with his knee on Floyd's neck, holding him down for more than eight minutes, while Floyd says he can't breathe.

Protests in response to Floyd's killing in police custody have taken place in all 50 states and spread to other countries like France, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, England, Kenya and Japan.

Some of the demonstrations have descended into turmoil, with looting and violence, and major U.S. cities have instituted curfews.

At his news conference on Tuesday, Trudeau pointed out that identical racial injustices exist in Canada as well.

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

Anti-racism protest in Canada
Canadian protesters hold up signs in Vancouver following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
| Credit: Mert Alper Dervis/Anadolu Agency via Getty
White House protests
U.S. Park Police push back protestors near the White House on Monday.
| Credit: ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty

Canada has seen its own demonstrations in recent days, in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and elsewhere.

"It's something many of us don't see, but it's something that is a lived reality for racialized Canadians. We need to see that — not just as a government and take action — but we need to see that as Canadians," Trudeau said Tuesday. "We need to be allies in the fight against discrimination. We need to listen, we need to learn, and we need to work hard to figure out how we can be part of the solution on fixing things."

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

Campaign Zero which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.

ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.

National Cares Mentoring Movement provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.