The tragedy of being ignored

By Patrick Hunter Wednesday July 25 2012 in Opinion
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One of the biggest problems the African-Canadian community faces in Canada, and specifically Toronto in this case, is being ignored. Sure, governments and policymakers will listen to us – or pretend to listen to us – but they do not hear us.


Governments have, over the past many years, given us the listening treatment. But, having firmly convinced themselves that they have the answers to our problems, go off and do whatever they want that gives them the popular political satisfaction of caring.


First, my deepest sympathies to the families and friends of Shyanne Charles and Joshua Yasay for their tragic loss; and to the other families who were injured by the stupid actions of the punks responsible in the Danzig shooting. There is absolutely no excuse for what they did and I hope they get caught soon.


Only a few weeks ago, May 30 to be exact, in a column with the headline: “Our community needs to engage politically”, I wrote about the lack of action on the “Review of the Roots of Youth Violence” report which Premier Dalton McGuinty asked former Chief Justice, Roy McMurtry, and former Speaker, Alvin Curling, to prepare.


Here is a firm case of being ignored. The report was presented to the Premier in 2008. Since then, none of the recommendations have been implemented. Whether their implementation would have averted the Danzig or Eaton Centre tragedies is a subject for another discussion.


The racism underlying the violence – violence that is affecting our community so significantly – is palpable, yet it is ignored. One reaction of the politicians suggests that the thugs who are perpetrating these violent acts are immigrants. They are Black, therefore they cannot be Canadians. Hence the proposal by the mayor, echoed by the federal minister responsible for Immigration and Citizenship, Jason Kenney, that they should be deported. Those who cannot be deported should be expelled from the city.


It is also Mayor Rob Ford who believes that funds directed to help steer youth into a positive direction, are “hug-a-thug” and therefore pointless. If the mayor had his way, the funds would be better spent increasing the size of the police service.


From the point-of-view of the federal government, increasing the sentencing for gun crimes and gang activity is what they see as the solution. Never mind that in cases where they have followed this prescription, there have been very little gained.


I mentioned the racism involved in this scenario. All this amounts to the fact that African-Canadian youth, who seem to be the largest proportion of perpetrators and victims, are part of a throw-away group. The thinking appears to be: Let us segregate them completely from society – White society – specifically. The best way to do that is to throw them in jail and throw away the key – or deport them.


The “Review of the Roots of Youth Violence” was the latest report produced about the state of the African-Canadian community (in part). As I noted in the above-mentioned column, the number of reports which have been produced about the difficult challenges faced by our community, in particular youth, have been significant. Stephen Lewis, at the request of then Premier Bob Rae, wrote in 1992 the one that gained some response.


The Progressive Conservative government, led by a man whose view of the world our current mayor emulates, threw out most of, or all, those programs, policies and legislation that were implemented in the wake of that report. The word “racism”, let alone the concept, was essentially banned from usage within the Ontario civil service.


What followed, among other things, was a period of “zero tolerance” of some “negative behaviour” in the schools, leading to suspensions and expulsions, whether or not they were warranted. African-Canadian students were, for the most part, the recipients of these severe punishments which left them, as it were, out in the cold – uneducated, jobless and with very little encouragement to stay away from criminal activity.


In 2005, about 40 community-based organizations serving the African-Canadian community, joined together in a coalition to put together an integrated program to try to change the community’s outlook. They requested the assistance of the three levels of government. They met with all three leaders at the time. All three leaders decided that what they were doing, or wanted to do – primarily short-term solutions – were more appropriate, thus, essentially, turning their backs on the coalition’s potential solutions.


Not much has changed since the enslavement of Africans, has it? Everyone else knows what is better for us than we do.



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