Anyone who watched the American Presidential debate will recognize the importance of the moment that Donald Trump refused to condemn white supremacism and white supremacists. To make it even more incredulous, the President then spoke directly to the far-right group, Proud Boys, telling them to, “stand back and stand by”. It was a truly transcendent moment in North American politics. While we can be guilty of portraying ourselves in a flattering manner when making comparisons and distinctions between Canada and America, we should ask ourselves if those exercises are truly helpful in understanding the depth of the problems we need to tackle. When it comes to racism, it’s better to focus on our own challenges.
Even then, it’s easy to make the case that Canada is well ahead when it comes to introspection, especially when it comes to the vestiges of colonialism. Over the last 12 years, we have witnessed the Residential Schools apology and gone through two difficult exercises with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women. Despite those significant moments, it is clear we remain more at the beginning of a process than anywhere else. These moments act as a scaffold to build upon and with recent calls to confront institutional racism gaining strength, it is time to pursue better outcomes for Indigenous and racialized populations in Canada.
The notion of systemic racism is worth examining. While most focus is placed on police and the justice system, there are many ways in which the system can either be designed to preserve a racial advantage, or harbour those who are racist themselves. The fact that a black person is twenty times more likely to be shot by police in Toronto than their white neighbours speaks to a systemic racism that delivers consistent and unequal outcomes for individuals based on their race.
When it comes to systems providing harbour for individuals with racist views, opinions, and actions, that came into sharp view recently as a dying Indigenous woman in a Quebec hospital broadcast the racist statements nurses and others in the hospital freely offered as to why she ended up in her situation. I posted the news story on my social media and am disturbed to learn that people in the riding of Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing have also received discriminatory treatment based on their Indigenous status. While this may not mean that the health care system is racist, it does present a stark reminder that racist individuals can permeate an institution.
That seems to be the case with the Canadian military who have been challenged to root out extremists in their ranks after three high profile incidents since 2017, including a reservist investigated as a recruiter for an American based white supremacist group. Chief of Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance has admitted that there is work to do as did former RCMP Commissioner, Bob Paulson who said in 2015, “I understand there are racists in my police force. I don’t want them to be in my police force.”
In Canada, we recently marked Orange Shirt Day to help us remember the history of residential schools. Moments like these allow us to challenge ourselves and look clearly at what state our country is in and where we have to improve. Although it’s difficult to make arguments for people to be more understanding when the under-pinning’s of society seem to be coming unglued, that is the only recourse available.
It is helpful to remember that although Canada has its share of systemic racism, it doesn’t mean that Canadians are, by default, racist. It does mean that we have to work to remove the vestiges of racism in the system. Once we understand where action is required, we must act or risk unflattering comparisons to others who appear mired in the problem instead of seeking solutions.
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