Friday, 6 January 2017

Anti-Racism Directorate is working on a plan to tackle racism

Anti-Racism Directorate is working on a plan to tackle racism
By Neil Armstrong

Michael Coteau, Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism who oversees the province’s Anti-Racism Directorate (ARD) says there’s “a whole army of people out there who wants to fight racism.”

Having listened to three to four thousand people face-to-face at ten public community meetings organized by ARD across the province last year, he says in early 2017, the ARD will be coming up with a strategic plan for combatting racism in Ontario.

This will include how they will collect data, what their educational campaign will look like, and how to apply a race-based lens to what the government does in policy and decision-making. 

On February 16, 2016, Premier Kathleen Wynne announced the establishment of the Anti-Racism Directorate to “address racism in all its forms -- including individual, systemic and cultural.”
Michael Coteau, Ontario's Minister of Children and Youth Services/Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism speaking at the podium at an event in 2015. Tony Ince, Nova Scotia's Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage and African Nova Scotian Affairs listens nearby.

This happened during the time that Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) urged the government to address issues of anti-black racism manifested in police street checks, also known as carding, and other sectors of society.

Among its demands, BLMTO called for end to carding and protested against the police shooting deaths of Jermaine Carby and Andrew Loku. It also wanted to see an overhaul of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU)

Apart from the ten community meetings, Minister Coteau also attended smaller meetings with different groups – something he will continue to do -- and plans to talk about race throughout the year.

“There are lots of people out there, regardless of what colour they are, or religion or where they live, they want to figure out how they can work towards equity in the province.”

The minister says there was not one person who spoke at the meetings that was critical of what the government is trying to do.

“That was one of the first kind of learning points. The second thing was that people are enthusiastic to help but people are uncomfortable talking about race in general.”

He says of the ten cities the ARD went to, there were only a couple mayors, chiefs of police, and politicians outside of the provincial government who showed up.

“To me, it even said to me that politicians, elected officials, people in power are uncomfortable talking about these types of issues.”

Coteau says it’s an uncomfortable conversation but there is no question in his mind that now more than ever these types of conversation are important.

“I feel as though what we’re seeing happening across the province and the country, what we’re seeing happening across the States, there’s a shift that’s taking place and I think Ontario needs to really position itself as a place that doesn’t tolerate any form of discrimination or racism.”

He says Ontario is seen as a province that is constantly looking for ways to knock down those barriers that exist that hold people back based on their race or culture.

The minister says one of the things that he found was important and it occurred to him while in Thunder Bay is that it can’t just be the province with a strategy, municipalities have to have their own strategies.

“And we’ve got, I believe it’s 444 municipalities across the province of Ontario, and as far as I know there’s only a couple that have an anti-racism plan in place.”

He says it is important to recognize the work that’s taking place in those jurisdictions, learn from what they’ve done and share that with other communities.

“You have to penetrate deep into municipalities to the daily lives of people in order to say, wait a minute, racism is occurring, it’s real and it’s unacceptable. And I think a lot of what we will bring forward will speak to some of those challenges.”


Regarding the concern raised by the labour movement about the small budget vis-à-vis the mandate of the ARD at the meetings, Coteau says his answer was “we don’t have a plan in place, we don’t know exactly what the makeup of the organization will look like.”

He says the only thing he knew was that he had a budget of $5M to support twenty-two full time positions and he had a year to put a plan in place.

“I thought it was completely appropriate for us to put a $5M budget together. Going forward, I told people that two things will come out of it in regard to expenditures. One, we go back to Treasury Board and we align the new budget based on the realities of that strategy. And the second thing I thought that was important was to have people realize that you can set a budget of $5M, $10M, of $20m, $30M, $50M, the real difference is going to come not through the budget but how you leverage other ministries to make decisions based on that race-based lens.”

For example, he says, if one is talking about the collection of data, “we’re talking about the tens of millions of dollars just for the proper collection of data, maybe in a couple of ministries. If you took education alone it would be a very expensive endeavor. Why limit the Anti-Racism Directorate through setting a budget when you can actually set policy and work with ministries to set direction and then from there have the ministries take on those responsibilities?”

“It baffles me why people saying it should be $50M or $10M when no one knows what the actual strategy is and no one really understands how much we can leverage other existing ministries in order to apply any anti-racism policies through their ministries. I think it’s important for us to recognize that there is more to gain by leveraging ministries than there is by setting a budget at any amount through the ARD.”


Coteau says the recent merger of the ARD and the new Inclusion, Diversity and Anti-Racism Division in Cabinet means the government is looking for ways to build a more inclusive Ontario public service.

He says this will happen through making sure that “any of those barriers that exist, when it comes to the hiring of smart young talented people who may not traditionally be getting those opportunities, that they are provided with those opportunities.”

It also allows for looking internally for ways to better position government when it comes to working with groups that haven’t traditionally been able to work with them, he says.

“And a perfect example of that is our procurement process in the province and how groups who may not traditionally work within that environment, how to bring them into the mix. It could mean honours and awards, how to get those honours/awards more into the communities.”

He says the government has some opportunities to open up some doors and work with community groups to get people into appointed positions, the procurement process and working to be hired within government.

“These are the things that we should be doing as a government and I am convinced 100% before this government can go out and tell the world what it should be doing to remove systemic racism that exists, it needs to ensure that its house is in order. So, I think that that entity itself, social inclusion, diversity, that entire internal operation with the ARD, under the charge of Sam Erry who’s responsible, the associate deputy minister, I think this is a huge game changer for Ontario.”

Minister Coteau says this is a big shift in the thinking of government in the way it operates and that Mitizie Hunter, Minister of Education, will move forward with data collection and he will do a similar thing in children’s aid societies.

“The acknowledgement of systemic racism in child welfare – that’s a massive shift in thinking, it’s a massive shift in tone. We’ve got some more things we’re working on internally and I think people will be very happy in the future as we come forward with more of these types of initiatives. But, for us, it’s about diversity, inclusion, building a workforce, and providing opportunities that reflect people who make up this province.”

DID ANYTHING FROM THE COMMUNITY MEETINGS PLAY A ROLE IN THE NEW LEGISLATION, ‘THE CHILD, YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES ACT’? [The Ministry of Children and Youth Services has made a commitment to implement the recommendations of the One Vision One Voice report.]

Coteau, who is also the Minister of Children and Youth Services, says people have been working on the legislation for a long time within the ministry.

“We paid for that One Vision One Voice, in partnership with the eighteen union leaders in the Ontario Children’s Aid Societies Association. We worked collectively as a group to make sure that that project could move forward.”

He says he’s happy that they “all landed in a place where I can stand and say that we’ll be embracing and incorporating those recommendations into our long-term strategy.”

“We think it’s a good document. I still think there is more work to be done. It doesn’t speak to how we as a community can play a role in strengthening child welfare, from our individual families and as individuals. But I think it’s a massive step in the right direction.”

Minister Coteau says the proposed child welfare legislation says systemic racism is real and it has played a role in the Black community.

“The fact that 40%-plus of the kids in children’s aid are black in Toronto is unacceptable to me and it’s a shame. I want to work with community-based organizations or children’s aid societies but I also want to work with families in Ontario to ask them what can we do to make a difference. What can we do as a Black community to make a difference? And I think the health of a community can always be judged on how its children are being cared for.”

The minister said when he went to northern Ontario, the Indigenous communities said the same thing to him – that they want more say in what happens to their children.

“And I say the same thing in the Black community; we need to have more say, that means participating on boards, it means working with organizations that understand the cultural aspects of what it means to be on African descent, and as individuals looking for ways to strengthen our ability to help these children that need our help.”

The One Vision One Voice report was released last year.

“The Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, the first child welfare agency in Ontario to publicly share race-based data, held a series of community consultations to share its data with the community and seek their advice regarding solutions. These data confirm the concerns expressed throughout the African Canadian community and show that African Canadians are significantly overrepresented within the child welfare system. These data show that while African Canadians make up 8.5% of the population of Toronto, they constitute 40.8% of the children and youth in care of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto. Advocates, along with those in the child welfare field suggest that this disproportionality is not just an issue within Toronto but is experienced throughout the Province,” notes the report.

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