By PATRICK HUNTER
“Systemic racism: When institutions or systems create or maintain racial inequality, often as a result of hidden institution biases in policies, practices and procedures that privilege some groups and disadvantage others.”
This is the definition that the Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate (OARD) provides at the beginning of their consultation sessions currently moving across the province. It is projected on a screen for a few minutes and is supposed to provide a guide to answer the questions – guidance – it seeks in developing and guiding the work of the Directorate.
As I noted in a previous column, it would have been useful to provide this or any other clearer definition of what is meant by systemic racism on its website to elicit the more focused response they hoped to get. Nevertheless, some of the presentations I have heard have been quite remarkable. And, as one presenter at the Mississauga session observed: “Why were there not more senior White people – senior managers and executives – attending these consultations in force, if only to listen?”
The questionnaire asks: “In tackling systemic racism, what systems or institutions in Ontario should the government address first, and how; and how important is it that the government collect race-based data and how should the data be used?”
It is a tough choice to make, in terms of priorities. Every sector, in my mind, is equally in need of tackling. However, I would suggest that the public and broader public sectors be first on the rung. These two sectors represent the largest focused employers in the province and probably present one of the least diverse senior management ranks. And, among these ranks are those who have had the longest individual continuous employment within a work culture that not only places a higher value on seniority, but who are probably most resistant to change.
It would therefore be reasonable to undertake a full census – a collection of data, including race-based data – and an employment systems review (ESR) to identify who are employed where and how they attained their positions. This process should be mandatory to the provincial and municipal levels of government, the school boards, hospitals, police and all the other bodies that get substantial direct support from government through our taxes.
This collection of data would provide a picture of what diversity looks like at a certain point in time. It also provides the basis from which to review how hiring, promotion and retention of employees are managed down to each unit, if you will. These organizations can then develop the necessary procedures to begin the reduction of systemic discrimination.
So, how does the government help people better understand systemic racism, and where does it start? This is what I have been preaching – you have got to begin talking to people like they are six-year-olds – explaining what it is in the simplest terms possible.
It is obvious that a public education campaign is necessary. Many have suggested that the campaign initiated by the Ontario Government on violence against women is a good example to follow.
Somehow the message has to get across, especially to the senior levels of management that failure to make necessary changes to not only hiring, promotion and retention, but also ensuring a workplace free of harassment is an essential part of their mandate. Failure to provide the necessary tools and guidance and remedies – the leadership required to change negative workplace culture, can and will have an impact on their job performance. This means, in part, they have to ensure that people who are subjected to racism and harassment have recourse to make a complaint and have that complaint reviewed by an independent source without repercussions.
The OARD also asks how the government can continue to engage and work with communities to address racism. There has been a long-standing proposal to establish a cabinet committee on anti-racism. This should include members of the community – and this includes the Indigenous communities – as well as the Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. It should meet at least twice a year at which a progress report is provided and the opportunity to challenge some decisions or directions.
It might also be useful that every two years, the Committee sponsors a conference or some facsimile to discuss matters with greater community.
Finally, the OARD asks, 10 years from now, what would success look like for the Directorate? The one answer that is clear is that workable systems are in place that have shown the desired results, particularly in the public sector and work is well under way to do the same in the private sector.
At the risk of being repetitive, the Employment Equity Act which the New Democrat government enacted was designed to do this work. It is, or should be, clear that much of this is not going to be achieved without effective legislation. One clear change I would make to that legislation is that persons of African descent – Black people – be established as a separate designated group from the “visible minority” category.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / Twitter: @pghntr