A Former Ontario MP Alleges She Was Racially Profiled At Parliament Hill Yesterday

Speaking up about this issue is "nerve-racking" for her.

Toronto Staff Writer
Celina Caesar-Chavannes wearing a black shirt and a lapel pin. Right: Parliament Hill

Celina Caesar-Chavannes wearing a black shirt and a lapel pin. Right: Parliament Hill

A Black former MP claims she was "racially profiled" by security personnel while entering the Senate of Canada building over the weekend.

Celina Caesar-Chavannes, a former Liberal member of parliament for Whitby, took to Twitter on Sunday to allege that Parliament Hill security guards had unjustly put her through checkpoints despite her visible status as a former MP.

What happened?

Around 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 12, Caesar-Chavannes says she entered the Senate of Canada with someone from the Institute of Future Legislators program at Toronto Metropolitan University.

"As I walked to the doors, I told the first security member that I was a part of the Institute's group. He let us in, and we went to the first desk. My pin was clearly visible," she said in a statement emailed to Narcity.

MP pins, once given, serve as valid senate passes for life.

"I gave my name and was checked off the first list. The second desk (before the formal security), looked at my license and provided me with my printed name tag. Again, my pin was fully present," she added.

As she entered the screening area, Caesar-Chavannes said she took off her coat to ensure her pin was conspicuous, catching the eyes of security, who allegedly had "quizzical looks on their faces" as she walked through the full-body screening device.

"When I started to gather my belongings, one of the guards asked, 'What was that?' and pointed to the direction of my pin on my chest. I told him it was an MP pin. He said, 'Oh! You would not need to go through security.'

"I said, 'Well, it looks like some MPs do not need to go through and others do.' Keep in mind that at least half a dozen security have seen the pin at this point."

The former MP said she then asked a security guard if the design of the pins had changed, prompting him to tell her that they had not and ask her where she obtained it from.

"I told him that I earned it," she said. "He walked away and then came back to apologize and tell me that he would work with security to ensure that I could get in and out of the building for the rest of the day."

Caesar-Chavannes also said that a few minutes later, she watched former NDP MP Peggy Nash arrive at the building wearing the same pin and get waved through the security checkpoint after the guards identified her as a former MP.

"When Peggy Nash walks into the building five minutes after me [...] and is told, 'Miss Nash, you don't have to go through security. Please, go right here.' It is about race. And I've never in my life had a very specific contextual example of being profiled," Caesar-Chavannes told Narcity in an interview.

"I was humiliated. My bags were searched, [I had to] go through a body scanner. And then somebody comes in five minutes later — a white woman comes in five minutes later — and is told, 'Miss Nash, go right on through.' Same pin; very, very different context. I'm a human being."

Caesar-Chavannes has made headlines in the past for speaking up against discrimination, famously engaging in a months-long Twitter feud with then-Conservative MP Maxime Bernier back in 2018.

What's next?

"So, how do we move forward? I don't necessarily know the answer to that. What I do know is that I'm tired of putting myself in a position where I have to be harmed in order for us to have a conversation about race, about what has happened on a systemic level in Canada around discrimination against people with multiple intersecting identities," she said.

"I'm tired of having to put myself in harm's way or to be in harm's way, multiple times. So it's not just the incident, then I have to report it or put it out on social media. Then I have to report it to a supervisor and walk through the halls where people who have just violated me are now supposed to be the ones protecting me."

The former MP told Narcity that she and her children have received "death threats" in the past, making her decision to step forward again a difficult one. "The fact that I even posted at all is nerve-racking for me."

Narcity has reached out to the Parliamentary Protective Service for a comment on the incident, they stated:

"The Parliamentary Protective Service (the Service) is committed to effectively delivering on its mission of security while ensuring that all members of the parliamentary community and visitors to Parliament Hill can enjoy a safe, welcoming, and inclusive environment. We are deeply saddened by and sincerely apologize for Ms. Caesar-Chavannes’ experience with the Service on June 12th. We are committed to fully investigating this incident."

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