Recent incidents of racial discrimination and bigotry in various parts of Canada reflect the uphill battle we as Canadians face in coming to terms with these very real threats to society.
We remain concerned while the discussion continues along two main lines. One is to try in many and often eloquent ways to raise awareness of the existence of bigotry and discrimination. The other comes from those who seek to quiet the discussion because of their discomfort with the issue.
However, there are far too many incidents of bigotry including physical attacks to be quiet about this urgent, and in some cases life threatening, matter.
Last week, it came to light that an elected official in Saskatchewan added his voice to the tragic shooting of Colten Boushie, a 23-year-old native man, by a farmer who has since pleaded not guilty to the charge of second-degree murder.
Reports are that Boushie was shot and killed when he and a group of friends pulled over the vehicle in which they were travelling to seek help to repair a flat tire.
In the heated public conversation that followed the shooting, the councilor posted on a social media site that “(the farmer’s) only mistake was leaving three witnesses”.
Then a few days ago, an art installation by Toronto-based artist Evond “Mediah Iah” Blake at the inaugural International Street Art Festival in Cambridge, Ontario, was vandalized. A racist slur and profanity were spray painted onto the art piece which had not yet been completed.
Blake has insisted that the actions by the unseen perpetrator remain uncovered to remind people of the issue of racism and to ensure that the discussion on this issue does not simply fade away.
People who would prefer to continue pretending that this kind of bigotry is a U.S. problem and that racial harmony in Canada is a foregone conclusion have attacked Blake for this decision.
There is no question that raising the matter of racial discrimination and bigotry is uncomfortable. But, there must be willingness on all sides to endure discomfort in order to arrive at the kind of peaceful nation Canada prefers to project to the world.
While it is true that this nation does not present the kind of racial tension that is now gripping many parts of the United States, it would be foolish to ignore the conditions that perpetuate the Canadian version of racial antagonism.
The timing for Ontario’s Anti-Racism Directorate (OARD) could therefore not have been better. But, instead of retracing what has already been done, this effort has to go further than the previous Anti-Racism Secretariat established by the Ontario New Democrat government more than 20 years ago, and disbanded by the Progressive Conservatives under Mike Harris.
We are concerned, as many were during the first public meeting hosted by the OARD, that the initial funding of $5 million and the mandate for this agency would be so limited as to not be able to adequately respond to the task it has before it.
The OARD website makes no mention, for instance, of the recent incident in Cambridge nor the police incident that involved the death of Abdirahman Abdi, a 35-year-old Somali-born man who was autistic. Abdi died after being beaten by police officers in Ottawa where he lived with his family.
The Black Canadian population and other minority communities are integral members of this nation we are building together. There must be structures in place that promote and protect equality. Minimizing or ignoring this troubling issue does a disservice to the fabric of our whole society.