Monday, 20 March 2017

Responses from some Community Partners of Ontario's 3-Year Anti-Racism Strategic Plan

By Neil Armstrong

Matthew Green, City Councillor, Ward 3, City of Hamilton    Photo contributed

In light of March 21 being International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, I am sharing excerpts of comments made by four community partners at the launch of Ontario’s 3-year anti-racism strategic plan, A Better Way Forward, by the Anti-Racism Directorate on March 7. The plan was announced by Michael Coteau, Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism at the Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office in Toronto.

The theme of the UN-designated day is, “Racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including in the context of migration.”

Every person is entitled to human rights without discrimination. The rights to equality and non-discrimination are cornerstones of human rights law. Yet in many parts of the world, discriminatory practices are still widespread, including racial, ethnic, religious and nationality based profiling, and incitement to hatred,” says the United Nations on its website.

A Better Way Forward includes these goals:

Developing a framework for the collection of race-based data in various institutions,
including the child welfare system and the justice, education and health sectors.
Collecting race-based data is a valuable way to better understand where racial
inequalities exist, which will help government work toward solutions to address it.

A new Ontario Black Youth Action Plan targeted at increasing access to supports and
opportunities for Black children, youth and their families to address outcomes

Implementing an anti-racism impact assessment framework to help anticipate and
remove unconscious bias in proposed policies, programs and decisions.

New legislation that would, if passed, ensure the sustainability and accountability of
the province’s anti-racism work by providing a framework for government and
organizations to identify and combat systemic racism.

Public education and awareness initiatives targeting racism, including Islamophobia
and anti-Semitism
Eliminating systemic racism and advancing racial equity is part of Ontario’s plan to create jobs, grow our economy and help people in their everyday lives.

Matthew Green, City Councillor, Ward 3, City of Hamilton

“… I would also like to begin by acknowledging the decades long work contributed by our frontline organizers, activists, elders, cultural groups and civic leaders who have fought tirelessly to ensure that our collective experience as racialized people have not been erased. And who consistently suffered the discomfort of having to lead this values conversation in our society despite facing further marginalization and public critique. And who consistently hold us accountable as elected officials for the ongoing history of systemic injustice demanding that it be addressed at all levels of government with policies that are commensurate to the collective impacts of racism and discrimination.

“Sisters and brothers, we are definitely indeed in historic times. It is an era that I call the New Civil Rights, not because the issues are new for any of us but because they demand for a new level of responsibility. A new level of accountability and a new level of solutions must be met with an immediate action and ongoing commitment to the same. And I believe that the New Civil Rights has been led by the direct action of our young Black and Indigenous women and queer folk which has resulted in this escalated response by different levels of government to properly and rightfully address the systemic barriers faced by racialized Ontarians.

“And as an inner-city councillor all the way from Hamilton, I’m proud to report locally that as a follow-up to the ARD consultation that with our youth we continue to provide an incredible leadership, organizing community-led initiatives that support the ongoing work of the Anti-Racism Directorate with a clear and critical intersectional analysis and participation.

“It was historic for us to have the minister provide his time and attention specifically to hearing the youth voices on the issues of racism that they face every day in our city, with the intention to continue to include and centre them in the conversation. We are in historic times in this province when our Premier provided the mandate to the Hon. Minister Coteau, a man who himself understands these issues through the eyes of his own lived experience and through the Anti-Racism Directorate is providing much needed leadership.”

[Matthew Green will be participating in an upcoming event at the Jamaican Canadian Association. If you’re thinking about running in the upcoming 2018 elections and you don’t know where to start, check out “So You Think You Can Run” organized by the JCA’s Political Advocacy Committee for Saturday, April 15, 1:30-4:30 p.m. at the JCA, 995 Arrow Rd., Toronto. See the details in the attached flyer.]

Avvy Go, Clinic Director of Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, and currently the spokesperson for Colour of Poverty-Colour of Change

“As a member of the Colour of Poverty-Colour of Change Network, a broad-based racial justice, education and advocacy network in Ontario, I’m very pleased to see that a number of the key recommendations that the network has been pushing for are now incorporated into the 3-year anti-racism strategy.

“In particular, we are very pleased to hear that the government will be introducing legislation to give the minister the power to mandate the collection of disaggregated data on the basis of race and other social demographic identities in order to better measure and understand the impact of government policies, programs and practices on racialized and other equity seeking groups. The collection of disaggregated data is foundational to the success of any anti-racism strategy. Without such data we simply cannot properly measure the progress over time of any plan that the government might choose to adopt or implement. The data will also help government set more appropriately targeted goals and objectives, as well as identify gaps in areas that need attention and improvement.”

Go said Colour of Poverty-Colour of Change also fully supports some of the population specific measures that the government will be undertaking to address anti-Black racism and racism facing Indigenous people. She noted that she will be looking forward to more announcements in the future on how the government will be addressing Islamophobia.

“Apart from the data collection and the introduction of a legislated framework, the Colour of Poverty-Colour of Change has also been urging the minister and the government to introduce strategies to address the colour-coded systemic discrimination in workplaces across the province’s labour market. A recent study by Ryerson University finds that employers are far less likely to hire people with East Asian and South Asian last names as compared to Caucasian- and European-sounding names. This is just one of many studies that highlight the economic disparities in the labour market in which members of racialized communities are denied fair and equal employment opportunity simply because of their race or ethnicity.

“We acknowledge with hope that some positive initiatives have been undertaken by the Premier to achieve more equitable hiring and employment outcomes for those who have for too long gone without. One example is the incorporation of targeted hiring objectives for historically disadvantaged communities into the Community Benefits Agreement negotiated for the Eglinton Crosstown transit project. So we look forward to seeing similar hiring expectations and obligations attached to all such public infrastructure projects and investments because more needs to be done to ensure all Ontarians have equitable access to employment regardless of their race, gender identity, sexuality and disability.”

Go called on the leadership of all political parties in Ontario to support this strategy in the legislature and beyond for the shared prosperity for all Ontarians.

Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day

“…As I listened to the minister and looking at the policy, legislation, education, and partnership mix that is built within the strategy, I can tell you that I’m very confident that what is the path forward will include First Nations people.”

Highlighting two points, Chief Day noted that:

“From the First Nations perspective, we have been afforded and we certainly work closely with the Ontario government on these types of initiatives. Where we are very clear on and make the distinction is that much of what we’re dealing with, with Ontario, with Canada, with municipalities and other jurisdictions, we deal with issues on a government to government basis. And in this case, we look at racism and two points of history -- one being that, I’m not sure if folks know this but there is a history of racism that is very deep here in this country. The first point is that in April 1876 the Indian Act was given royal assent and the Indian Act is a piece of legislation that is still alive and well. It is still utilized by the federal government and supported, just by convention, by the provinces and territories. So institutional racism born out of the Indian Act is one issue that we are working very closely with other governments to ensure that it gets eradicated and that we begin to move closer towards a government to government relationship.  One that respects our nations, and as the young elder and as the minister spoke I can’t help but think about the treaties and the original history that the settler colonial government had with our people when you landed here on these shores.

I also want to point out that the Indian Act has also been awarded some recognition in the development of the apartheid system in South Africa. In the early 1900s, the Indian Act was offered up by the British monarchy to the South Africans for a model of race-based segregation. Yes, these are hard discussions, yes, these are things that most Canadians don’t know about but these are things that governments are willing to work with First Nations on in moving forward. I am very appreciative of this Ontario government -- Premier Kathleen Wynne and her ministers. But when we come to these events, I’m very keen to recognize the work that lay ahead and as such I want to just assure you that I had spoken with Minister Coteau and he’s assured me that within the next two weeks we will be meeting together. We will be discussing what the parallel processes are going forward because, yes, we need to be part of this type of a strategy but on a government-to-government basis. We still have the colonial aspect of that relationship to deal with directly.”

Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims

“In the last few months, both in Ontario and across Canada, we have witnessed an increasing number of incidents that can be classified as xenophobic and racist targeting various communities. They’ve ranged from verbal abuse to vandalism to arson to assaults against women in broad daylight, including one in this very neighbourhood. This is a dangerous and startling change that we need to be aware of and vigilant about, and announcements like today will hopefully put a spotlight on these troubling incidents. My Ontario, our Canada is one of inclusivity, not just acceptance. It is one of respect, not just tolerance.

“We unfortunately saw the worst-case scenario a few weeks ago through the tragic event of the Quebec City terrorist attack. This is the first time in recent history a terrorist act took the lives of six innocent people in a house of worship in Canada -- Khaled Belkacemi, Azzedine Soufiane, Aboubaker Thabti, Abdelkrim Hassane, Mamadou Tanou Barry and Ibrahima Barry. We must never forget these names because this loss of innocent lives represents and will serve as a constant reminder that words matter. Hate-filled words have no place in our society; hate-filled acts are not a passing incident to be ignored. Justice must be served for the six and for the thousands like them across this province. And today’s announcement of the strategic plan and the path for finding the solutions that will ensure these types of hate crimes never happen again begins now.

“At the end of January of this year, the results of a recent analysis of Canada’s online behaviour commissioned by CBC’s Marketplace suggest a 600% jump in the past year in how often Canadians use language online that is racist, Islamophobic, sexist or otherwise intolerant. The Ontario Human Rights Commission has recognized that anti-Muslim discrimination is “a leading form of contemporary Creed-based discrimination in Ontario. Stereotypes of Muslims as a threat to Canadian security and Canadian values have been particularly pronounced.” Echoing this, according to Statistics Canada in the last three years hate crimes targeting Muslims have doubled. Muslims report experiencing discrimination or unfair treatment in the past five years and 62% of Canadian Muslims are worried about discrimination. These figures mirror the data that the NCCM has been collecting on hate crimes and incidents targeting Canadian Muslims. To be clear, no one is saying that we shouldn’t have a robust, even passionate debate about how we best manage our growing diversity or that we should not be vigilant about and vociferously defend our cherished rights. At the same time, however, unchecked political rhetoric can drive and foster environments of fear and hate. Just over 17 months ago, we had a federal election here in Canada where Muslims were targeted by similar rhetoric we have seen elsewhere. Today, we still have some elected officials implying that Muslims and other minorities need to be screened for anti-Canadian values.

“Moving forward the NCCM is proud to lend its expertise, knowledge and experience to support the development of new and enhancement of old initiatives.”

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