THERE IS NO RACISM in Canada. That’s what media commentator Rex Murphy and retired politician Stockwell Day both said this week. So it must be true. Who better to comment on the state of race relations than two old, white guys.
Beyond the ludicrousness of their statements, as response to the ongoing protests of police brutality against blacks in the U.S., their statements do nothing to improve a very grave situation.
Watching the protests in the U.S., with the hyper-militarized response to the protests, brings visions of authoritarian regimes around the world, from Egypt, to Syria, to Hong Kong, to the Philippines. Heavy handed policing of protests may clear the streets for a day, but they will not get rid of the ongoing racism and overt violence against blacks that sparked the protests.
It will be dialogue, policy, and peacemakers who lead us out of these troubled times.
Here in Canada, racism lives. Which is why the work of peacemakers has been so important.
The report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls gave stark testimony to the failure of the police and criminal justice system in Canada to protect Indigenous women and girls. What made the report possible was the work of peacemakers. Individuals and groups like the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) fought hard to have the stories of the missing and murdered, and their families to be heard. The NWAC are peacemakers.
The report on Truth and Reconciliation gave voice to the 150,000 First Nation children who were forced to attend Indian Residential schools and their families across Canada. There were hearings across Canada, including here in Kamloops, which gave individuals the right to speak, and those around them, the opportunity to listen.
Financial restitution, changes to school curriculum, and a reframing of relationships between First Nations and settlers were all outcomes. The survivors and their families who spoke at the commission’s hearings were peacemakers. The policies that came out of the hearings have reshaped relationships between First Nations/non-First Nations.
Across Canada, police departments implement Community Contact Policies, more frequently known as Carding. This is a system of stopping individuals, and recording their data, when no particular offense is being investigated. Across Canada, carding has been used disproportionally against Blacks. Amnesty International reports that in Halifax, you are six times as likely to be carded if you are Black.
In Ottawa, Black drivers are 2.3 times as likely to be stopped than the dominant population. In Vancouver, 5 per cent of street checks are of Blacks, despite their being just 1 per cent of the population. Human rights groups in Canada and around the world are calling on Canada to stop carding, which disproportionally targets racialized groups. These human rights groups are peacemakers.
The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. (IIOBC) provides independent oversight of police involved in injury or death. Independent oversight and accountability of police actions are central to protests happening now in the U.S. in wake of the killing of George Floyd by police this week.
Since the establishment of the IIOBC in 2012, there have still been police-involved injury and death in B.C. But there is far more confidence that police are accountable, and that reasonable force was used, than in many cases in the past. After the death of Robert Dziekanski, after being tasered by the police, his mother Zofia Cisowski, pushed for justice and oversight. It was because of people like Cisowski that the IIOBC was established. Cisowski was a peacemaker.
Racism is visible again and again in Canada. It is visible in the disproportionate numbers of First Nation who are incarcerated, and the 20 times higher rate of Blacks shot by police in Toronto. It is equally apparent when 22 per cent of Canadians belong to a visible minority, but only 5 percent of FP500 companies’ board members are visible minorities. Across all levels of Canada, racism has its effects.
The ongoing protests, and the intense militarized response unfolding in the States are unsettling. Peacemakers, with policy, is what is needed. As the events continue in the States, we can’t lose site of the racism around us too. We cannot think that no more needs to be done here in Canada.
It will be peacemakers and their policies that will counter racism, here in Canada, and hopefully, in the States as well.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.