Are Canadians really less racist than Americans?
The death of George Floyd in Minnesota has spurred massive protests across the world. His death has also prompted some to claim that systemic racism doesn't exist in Canada as it does in the U.S. But Canadians who have faced discrimination disagree, saying racial tensions do not stop at the border.
Police in Canada are facing growing scrutiny after two women – both members of ethnic minorities and both suffering mental health problems – died following encounters with officers. Also a video showing Canadian police repeatedly punching a prominent indigenous leader as they arrest him was shocking. "We've all now seen the shocking video of Chief Adam's arrest and we must get to the bottom of this," said the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Although the incident occurred on 10 March, the video was published recently.
These horrible events come as tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in the US in protest over police violence against racial minorities. Such incidents have fueled growing calls to divert the billions of dollars of police funding to preventive and responsive social programs. According to estimates, Canadian taxpayers pay C$15.1bn on police services across the country. “Why do you need someone with a gun to respond to a public health crisis unless you’re assuming that person will use the gun at some point?” said Alexander McClelland an activist and post-graduate researcher at the University of Ottawa. Victims of such encounters are overwhelmingly likely to be members of racial minorities.
“We know we have an awful lot of work to do here in Canada. As a government, we have taken steps towards that, but … there is much more to do.” Said Trudeau. However, it seems that structural and systemic negligence are so deep that even Trudeau himself avoided even saying Trump’s name in his eventual response, during a press conference, when he was asked for his thoughts on Trump's call for military action against protesters and did not speak for some 21 seconds at first . Rather than offer an immediate answer, the question was met with silence. Surprisingly, Trudeau wasn't the only one in government to be pushed for a comment on Trump's recent call for crackdowns on protesters. When Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was pressed on the issue during a press conference Tuesday, she too refused to directly mention Trump in her response.
A number of prominent Canadians have cast doubt on the idea that racism is entrenched in the country’s institutions. But that is may be because Canada often doesn’t speak about its role in slavery, about how Black people were brought to Canada as slaves. It's a common myth that Canada didn't have slavery. It did. As historians like Brett Rushforth, Marcel Trudel and Charmaine Nelson point out in their scholarship, thousands of Indigenous people and enslaved Africans were held captive in Canada by merchants, traders and settlers.
Activists and historians argue that before change can come, Canadians must first accept a tarnished history and the persistent structural inequities that it has bequeathed the nation. “When we talk about systemic racism, we’re not just trying to lay the blame on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). It’s the entire structure that is causing continued violence against black and Indigenous bodies in this country,” said Arcand-Paul a Cree lawyer and executive on the Indigenous Bar Association.
For generations, Canadian history has concentrated on the country’s position as the last stop on the Underground Railroad – a place which meant freedom for those who escaped slavery in the US. But the same narrative omits the experiences of thousands of enslaved people within Canada.
“It is time for all Canadians to acknowledge that anti-Black racism is pervasive in Canada. In fact, the belief that there is little to no racism in Canada is in itself a barrier to addressing it.” Said Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission in a statement. “The roots of racism and systemic discrimination in Canada run deep. They are historically embedded in our society, in our culture, in our laws and in our attitudes. They are built into our institutions and perpetuate the social and economic disparities that exist in everything from education, to healthcare, to housing and employment.” “One of the reasons that racism persists in Canada is because our commitment to the perception of racial tolerance & harmony seems to be prized above the actual lived experiences of people.” Said Robyn Maynard an author.
“Police are repeatedly sent to help when a crisis involves a black person because Canadians are still afraid of black people.” Said Canadian author and activist Desmond Cole. "We keep insisting that there's no other way, but obviously somebody who's trained in de-escalation, somebody who's trained to talk to people, someone who doesn't have a weapon, someone who can offer services and support, that person is obviously a better person to come and respond,"
“Women, black women, Indigenous people, religious minorities and people with disabilities, among others, need to be part of the conversation to create change.” Said a Former Liberal MP.
Some people will not hear you regardless of how truthfully you speak. They will not hear you regardless of how loudly or lovingly or profoundly you speak because they do not want to. That is what the one-sided conversation around racism in Canada feels like, one that is falling on deaf ears. Why do Black people in Toronto account for 25 per cent of police-involved shootings when they make up only slightly more than 8.8 per cent of the population?
Here are some stories about racism in Canada according to its residents.