Apart from the treatment of First Nations in Canada, Canadian Black racism goes back to 1793 when Britain gave legal protection to slavery by an Imperial Act that permitted the entry into Canada of “Negroes”. Canadians often romanticize their role in aiding runaway slaves but they were subjected to racist policies.
Chinese labourers in Canada were subject to horrific working conditions, they were paid one-quarter of the wages of “white” workers and there was the head tax. The uprooting of Japanese Canadians in 1942 and incarcerated in jails and internment camps, were forced to work and had their property confiscated, while South Asian Canadians were denied the franchise, unable to enter professional occupations, had restricted property rights and were subjected to discrimination in housing. https://www.crrf-fcrr.ca/images/stories/pdf/ePubFaShLegRac.pdf
In recent years we saw a shift away from interest in true race relations, especially Anti Black Racism in favour of addressing the patterns of systemic or endemic racial disparities, as well as Diversity within a Multiculturalism framework within Canada. In 2000& 2007, I published and stated the following;
“Diversity training for hospital staff and the nursing profession was viewed as a method to cultivate a climate of tolerance. Occupational culture guides and interprets the tasks and social relations of work. Anti-racist knowledge instead of diversity training may have changed the culture that exists within the profession and in the work environment. The system is Euro-centric in training in spite of the diversity of the population.” “Perhaps since guns and violence have brought racism back to the surface in Toronto in 2006, we may see these researchers jump on the bandwagon and engage in studying racism in nursing. We know, however, that since the 1980s, racialised scholars such as Wilson Head (1985) and even the Ontario Hospital Association (1994) have discussed racism in the hospital system.” Jacobs (2007) The Cappuccino Principle: Health, Culture and Social Justice in the Workplace. Ontario: de Sitter Publication. All these discussions and studies inform us that change did not occur even within the Health Care system.
In general, as early as 1985 adverse or systemic effects of racism have been acknowledged in Canada, for example in a Supreme Court decision (OHRC v. Simpson-Sears 1985 (2 S.C.R. 536); see Black, 2004). Beck, Reitz and Weiner (2002) have, however, lamented that the 1996 amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act and federal Equal Employment Act have actually weakened accountability for systemic discrimination.
In the same year, 1985, Ontario’s Equal Opportunity Plan rescinded the first provincial employment equity act in Canada, putting the onus on individuals, employers, unions, professional and other tribunals to address discrimination, with the result that enormous sums of health care dollars are being used to settle racial disputes out of view of the public eye with few accountability mechanisms in place to either prevent or de-escalate conflict (Hagey et al, 2005).
The social reproductions of institutionalized injustice, notably the ethos of white superiority exist today. The silent voices of the “racialised” others speak loudly to the dominant culture of compliance that is protected in self-serving professions and groups.
These past few weeks we have been talking about Millennials and Gen Zs who are out on the streets of the USA and Canada with a reawakening of civil rights and social justice within the framing of Black Lives Matter. If this is a moment in North America, accountability must be a key factor, as well as true policy actions around Anti Black Racism. Unlike researchers who at times discuss social phenomena as only that which is observed, we know social phenomena is also experienced. Observation enables critical reflection to become clear to the observer. This is one of the reasons that so many different racial groups are on the streets for 18 days demanding that “Black Lives Matter” is critically reflecting on structures that influence our day-to-day lives such as policing and statues.
In order to understand the groups today in North America streets when watching TV, remember that they are named according to their birth years. As of 2020, the breakdown by birth years looks like this:
Baby Boomers: Baby boomers were born between 1944 and 1964. They’re current between 56-76 years old Gen X: Gen X was born between 1965 – 1979 and are currently between 41-55 years old –Gen Y: Gen Y, or Millennials, were born between 1980 and 1994. They are currently between 26-40 years old –Gen Z: Gen Z is the newest generation to be named and were born between 1995 and 2015. They are currently between 5-25 years old. Baby Boomers were on the streets in 1968 – it is their grandchildren who are protesting today.
The general public only understands what they view and read via the media/social media. Thus the politics underlying how decisions are made concerning civil rights is in their focus since ” I cannot breath” came to their attention. In addition, given that people in the streets are getting their voices heard via media and we are discussing this for the past 18 days within our own circles is significant. We live in a culture that has allowed brutality, be it racial or otherwise to exist since the founding of Canada. Advocacy can be advanced for those of us who are watching those in the streets. We can write to our MPs to make structural and policy changes that would make Canada an equitable society.
As Martin Luther King Jr. admonished, “…our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”