New Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole won’t say whether he believes systemic racism exists in Canada amid ongoing protests and debate about the issue both here in Canada and in the United States.

In an interview with West Block host Mercedes Stephenson airing on Sunday, O’Toole spoke about the need to stamp out racism but wouldn’t say whether he believes systemic racism exists, or how it can be defined.

Erin O'Toole won't say whether he believes there is systemic racism in Canada 0:47 Erin O’Toole says Trudeau trying to trigger an early election during a crisis
Erin O’Toole says Trudeau trying to trigger an early election during a crisis

“I’m always going to say, ‘I think there is racism’ and I want to stamp it out,” O’Toole said. “I fight for people that wear a uniform. And when you use a term like ‘systemic,’ some of those people feel that you’re calling them racist.

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“So can we improve community-based policing? Can we improve training? Can we make sure that communities that are losing faith in the public services or the RCMP can have that faith restored?

“There is no definition. It gets tossed around.”

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High-profile deaths at the hands of police have sparked ongoing protests and debate about the issue of systemic racism not only in the justice system, but in other facets of daily life, like employment, housing, health care and education.

“There’s got to be a zero tolerance to racism, anti-Semitism, any form of division and intolerance,” O’Toole said. “Somebody should be able to come to Canada tomorrow and have success. If there’s any barriers, if there’s any racism, we’re going to send a real message that there’s zero tolerance.”

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O’Toole’s comments were recorded prior to a tweet Saturday from Conservative MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay that featured an old video of Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland interviewing George Soros when she was a journalist.

Findlay said Canadians should be alarmed by the “closeness” between Freeland and Soros, a billionaire philanthropist who is a frequent target of far-right conspiracy theorists.

Findlay later deleted the message and apologized for retweeting content from a “source that promotes hateful conspiracy theories.”

Read more: B.C. Tory MP deletes tweet on ‘closeness’ of George Soros, Chrystia Freeland

“I have removed the tweets and apologize to anyone who thinks I would want to endorse hateful rhetoric,” she said.

In a wide-ranging interview since becoming Conservative leader, O’Toole said his party would be ready to fight Prime Minister ’s Liberals in a possible election this fall but said his focus is on helping small businesses and the economy recover.

“My focus is on the economy and on job creation for Canadians. The Liberals are rattling the sword, trying to maybe force an election. They’re playing some games,” O’Toole said.

“We’re sharpening our sword. We’ll be ready to fight. But that’s not my priority. My priority is to make sure that the full impact of the first wave of wave of COVID understood.”

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O’Toole said his plans included focusing on small businesses that he said didn’t get enough support from the federal government amid the ongoing pandemic.

Read more: ‘They’re targeting us’: Why some advocates want to defund Canadian police

While the next federal election isn’t scheduled until 2022, the WE Charity controversy has sparked calls for Trudeau to resign and threats from the Bloc Quebecois and Conservatives of advancing a motion of non-confidence in the government.

Trudeau has prorogued Parliament until Sept. 23, effectively shutting down a series of committee studies into the ongoing WE Charity student grant controversy.

O’Toole wouldn’t say whether he would call for an election when MPs return to the House of Commons.

“We can oppose what the government’s doing without allowing them to try and take advantage of a pandemic and a crisis for an election,” he said, adding that his team was “destroying” the Liberal government during the committee hearings.

“Let’s not kid anybody watching at home. This is what was doing. Why do you think he prorogued Parliament?

–With files from Kerri Breen

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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