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Canada’s Angel Complex

“That doesn’t happen here,” “We’re not like them,” or “I’m so happy we live in Canada”: these are common phrases you hear people in Canada utter when the issue of race and racism are “trending topics”. The Canadian belief is that while racism does exist, it is nothing like what it is in America. America’s well-known history of slavery and Jim Crow era laws create the assumption in Canada, that our history is not as harmful or unfortunate. The truth is, however, and what history has told us is that Canada is in no position to take comfort in the state of racism within its borders. Racism is and always has been an issue in Canada—it is simply not overt, rather, hidden and subtle.

Racism is and always has been an issue in Canada—it is simply not overt, rather, hidden and subtle.

Canada was founded and established on unceded territory. Indigenous peoples were forcibly removed from their homes and ultimately, displaced. The government then decided to implement discriminatory policies such as the to forcibly assimilate and further displace Indigenous nations. Indigenous children were taken from their homes and put in Residential Schools, a form of cultural genocide. This history laid the foundation for a system that advantaged European settlers and disadvantaged Indigenous communities. 

What does this history explain? It explains and supports the disproportionate treatment of Indigenous communities in the criminal justice system; the intergenerational trauma and the lack of resources/programming that was born out of colonial displacement which has kept Indigenous peoples marginalized. The State supported and advanced the unfavourable circumstances of these groups—the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (“RCMP”) was created for the specific reason of displacing Indigenous people from their land and to enforce the Indian Act [1]. Between 2007-2017, approximately 33% of those shot by the RCMP were Indigenous [2]. What is even more evident of the discrimination and disproportionate treatment of Indigenous peoples is their total population compared to their police fatalities – Indigenous people make up 4.8% of the Canadian population but 15% of police fatalities and 30% of the prison population [3].

At this point you might be thinking well what about Black people? They do not have the same issues here as they do in America. Wrong. Let’s go back in history first.  Black people were brought to Canada as slaves, until slavery was abolished in 1834. Even after slavery was abolished, Canada had segregation laws that suggested Black people were “second class citizens.” In early history, Black people in Canada populated communities such as Windsor, Hamilton, and Toronto where many reported they were treated as inferior citizens. They faced discriminatory treatment in housing, education, and employment. Similar to Indigenous people, a system was created to advantage white communities while weakening Black communities, a system that was established by white men for white men. 

Canada continues to erase its revolting history of colonialism and segregation. But the numbers reveal the truth. The Black community makes up 3.4% of Canada’s population but 9% of police fatalities [4]. We are twenty times more likely, in Toronto, to be shot and killed by the police [5]. Black drivers in Ottawa are 2.3 times more likely to be stopped by police [6], and those in Halifax 6 times more likely to be carded [7]. These are the realities of Black Canadians—the story is no different outside of America. 

The case of Dafonte Miller proves just that—we are no better than those South of us. Two white men, one an off-duty officer, beat a young, Black male enough to take his eye. How does that make Canada better? What about the missing and murdered Indigenous women that the State seems to care very little for? The differential treatment of Black children in schools? Earlier this year, the Premier of Ontario stated, “thank God we are different from the United States and we don’t have the systemic deep roots that they have had for years”. This lack of education from perhaps the most powerful man in Ontario that Canada has no roots of systemic racism reinforces the belief that Canada has no issues. 

Canada is quiet about its racism. It’s done a good job of hiding it. Over policing and over-incarceration of racialized communities is not unique to America. Police brutality is not unique to America. It happens here, every day. It’s time to wake up!

[1] Global News. The RCMP was created to control Indigenous people. Can that relationship be reset? June 27, 2019

[2] The Globe and Mail. More than one-third of the people shot to death by RCMP officers over a 10-year period were Indigenous. Nov 17, 2019.

[3]  The Guardian. National Travesty: report shows one third of Canada’s prisoners are indigenous. January 2020.

[4]  Policy Options. Black Canadians and the Justice System. May 8, 2018.

[5] The Guardian. Black Toronto residents 20 times more likely to be shot dead by police, study says. Dec 10, 2018

[6] Global News. Data shows Middle Eastern and Black drivers more likely to be pulled over by Ottawa Police. Oct 25, 2016

[7] CBC. Black people in Halifax 6 times more likely to be street checked than whites. Mar 27, 2010

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