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Former MP calls on Parliament Hill security to stop racial profiling

Celina Caesar-Chavannes says her access to parliament was questioned based on how she looks
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development Celina Caesar-Chavannes rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, May 25, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

A former MP who says she was recently racially profiled by parliamentary security is calling on the service to address racism within its ranks.

Celina Caesar-Chavannes said she was questioned by the Parliamentary Protective Service members in June when she tried to access the precinct wearing her parliamentary pin.

The pin, worn by current and former MPs, is meant to grant the wearer access to any building on the parliamentary precinct without having their bags and person searched, she said. But she said security services asked her where she got the pin and tried to do a search anyway.

Caesar-Chavannes was elected as a Liberal MP in 2015 for the riding of Whitby, Ont., but left the caucus in March 2019 and sat as an Independent member until the election that fall.

After she was questioned, Caesar-Chavannes said former New Democrat MP Peggy Nash was able to walk through security without incident.

“Peggy left politics long before I did,” said Caesar-Chavannes. “Nobody’s expecting them to recognize us, but the pin is universal. Security knows what that is.”

Nash was an MP for the Parkdale-High Park riding in Toronto from 2006 to 2008, and regained her seat in 2011 until 2015.

While she did not see the first portion of the encounter, Nash said she arrived at the Senate building entrance donning her own pin and security waved her through.

Nash recalled Chavannes-Caesar say at the time that when security asked her where she bought her pin from, “It was as though they did not believe that she could legitimately be in possession of a parliamentary pin.”

This is not the first time the security service has been called out for profiling people of colour on the Hill.

In 2019, the service apologized after an incident during a lobbying event called Black Voices on the Hill, where several young participants said they were referred to as “dark-skinned people” and asked to leave a parliamentary cafeteria by a security guard.

In her farewell speech in 2021, Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, who was the NDP MP for Nunavut, said she does not feel safe on the Hill. She described being chased down hallways and racially profiled by members of the Parliamentary Protective Service.

“Every time I walk onto House of Commons grounds, speak in these chambers, I am reminded every step of the way I don’t belong here,” said Qaqqaq.

In response to a tweet Caesar-Chavannes posted on the day of the incident, former NDP MP Laurin Liu said, “This day-to-day racial and gendered profiling when I was on Parliament Hill ten years ago made me dread showing up to work.”

NDP MP Matthew Green, who is a member of the Parliamentary Black Caucus, said the group has heard other reports, too.

“We need to work with senior leadership to ensure that there’s adequate training involved of all staff members,” Green said, noting he is in discussions with caucus members to ensure this type of situation doesn’t happen again.

Caesar-Chavannes said Larry Brookson, acting director for the Parliamentary Protective Service, responded swiftly to the incident and apologized. But she feels more should be done, and said apologies without action don’t mean anything.

Nash recalled Caesar-Chavannes asking Brookson what action the service would take.

“It didn’t sound like that was completely thought through, but there was a commitment to work with her to to move forward and make sure that the staff were appropriately trained” Nash said.

Caesar-Chavannes said Brookson invited her to meet with their diversity, equity and inclusion specialist, but there was a delay of about five weeks in scheduling the meeting. During that meeting, she demanded accountability and clear steps to prevent similar situations in the future.

The conversation has petered out since then, she said.

“In a position of power and authority … you have the opportunity to make decisions about what happens next for people in that space,” she said, adding that she is advocating on behalf of those who are subject to the same kind of treatment and have less privilege to speak out.

“I think they would be wise to to take this seriously, because it’s 2022 and this kind of this kind of blatant mistreatment should not be here,” Nash said.

“As long as there are persistent stereotypes, and as long as people brush off complaints of somebody’s bruised feelings, really representative Parliaments are not going to be able to take their full place, and that’s just basically undemocratic.”

When asked about the incident, Parliamentary Protective Services said in a statement that it is going through “a process of assessment and capacity building.”

“We remain committed to continuous improvement, to fostering authentic exchanges, and to receiving constructive feedback,” the service said Thursday, adding that its highest priority is the safety and well-being of employees and visitors to the Hill.

“We have got to do better,” Caesar-Chavannes said.

READ ALSO: Scholar banned for racial profiling of black student at UBC humanities meeting


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Erika Ibrahim, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: Correcion in first sentence to clarify incident happened in June, not July.

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