Unmasking Canada’s Veil of Deceit, Deception and Oppression
Hugh Anthony, PhD
The global protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, an African American by a white police officer in Minneapolis, USA have resulted in a widespread call for fundamental change to policing and systemic racism. In Canada, recently Doug Ford, the Premier for the province of Ontario, the nation’s most populous province said, “Canada doesn’t have systemic, deep roots of racism as the US.” This missive lit a spark that ignited deep-seated sentiments in the digital sphere and in the quarantined home offices of racialized and marginalized communities in our ‘home and native land.’
“It is tempting for Canadians to fall back on the idea that we are not as racist as Americans” opined Maija Kappler, Associate Lifestyle Editor at HuffPost Canada. She noted that “we are quick to condemn our neighbours to the south.” Of interest, however from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ‘blackface’ espouses an underbelly of ‘the hidden history of racism’ and subterfuge in Canada. Our ‘home and native land’ is often seen as ‘a beacon of comparative progressivism’ on race as well as a host of other issues. Canadians relative to their American counterparts are seen as ‘goody two shoes’ (otherwise known as ‘quite polite Canadian stereotype’) with its progress liberalism and pseudo-inclusive proclivities, relative to America’s open war and disdain for black and indigenous bodies; along with its well-known history of racism.
The issue of institutionalized and system racism in Canada is viewed from its historied lens of colonization, oppression and white supremacy. Institutionalized and structural racism along with systemic discrimination, have been a feature of Canadian life for the unprivileged racialized and marginalized groups. Racial segregation of Black people in Canada was historically enforced through laws, court decisions and social norms. For example, an Order-in-Council P.C. 1324 legislation was approved on 12 August 1911 by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier that stated: “the Negro race…is deemed unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada.” According to The Canadian Encyclopedia the sole purpose of this legislation was utilized to “increased discretionary powers in response to the vigorous campaigning of white men and women to ban any further Black immigration”. This is amidst the fact that black people have been trading with indigenous peoples for centuries, along with them settling in Canada, long before white people pursued their exploitative adventures of greed, massacre and theft of indigenous lands.
The Komagata Maru’s voyage of 1914 symbolized the country’s racially exclusive immigration laws in the early 20th century. The Atlantic magazine highlighted the journey of Indians who challenged Canada’s former practice of excluding immigrants from India. They chartered a converted coal freighter sailed from Hong Kong to Vancouver with 376 South Asian immigrants, many of whom were Sikh inhabitants of other British colonies, to challenge Canada’s immigration laws. It proved to be a bitter and tragic experience for the passengers, first in an unsuccessful and eventually physical confrontation with officials. Sir Richard McBride, the then Conservative premier of British Columbia, made clear the explicit racism of Canada’s policies — “To admit Orientals in large numbers would mean the end, the extinction of the white people,” he said. “And we always have in mind the necessity of keeping this a white man’s country.”
Over a half a century before, John Alexander McDonald Canada’s first Prime Minister and the chief broker of the political deal that established ‘Our Home and Native Land’ as Canada in 1867. He was crassly racist toward Canada’s indigenous population and his policies included a forced residential schooling program for more than 100,000 children, banned indigenous languages and prohibited, sometimes forcefully, indigenous cultural practices. In 2015 a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission declared the policies “cultural genocide.” According to Professor Timothy Stanley, the University of Ottawa “our first prime minister was a white supremacist.” In his book Contesting White Supremacy: School Segregation, Anti-Racism, and the Making of Chinese Canadians in 1885, John Alexander Macdonald told the House of Commons that, if the Chinese were not excluded from Canada, “the Aryan character of the future of British America should be destroyed …” That henceforth has defined the Canadian personality.
Canadians at best will be okay with condemning our neighbour, but it is with feigning attempt that they will be honest that racism is a clear and present danger in our society for racialized and marginalized citizens of this country; especially white people. Which was evident with the promulgations of Doug Ford and his counterpart in the province of Quebec, Premier Francois Legault who called on Quebecers to fight racism — even as he denied the existence of systemic discrimination in his province. The misleading and concocted missives emerged as a result of the peaceful protests by citizens in Toronto and Montreal respectively a few days after George Floyd’s death in the US by a white police officer who kneeled on his neck. In Canada’s largest city, Toronto the death of an African Canadian woman, Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s under mysterious circumstances while police were in her Toronto home after a 911 call for mental health assistance. The family of Regis was denied help by the Toronto Police Services, instead, they dispensed death; it is alleged that she fell to her death from the balcony of her 24th-floor apartment in the city.
Racism, Racial Profiling and Dehumanizing of Black and Indigenous Bodies
The National Anti-Racism Council of Canada highlighted that there is a troubled relationship amongst racialized and marginalized groups and the criminal justice system in Canada. In their report, Racial Discrimination In Canada it highlighted that racialized groups within Canada are “victims of structural and systemic racial inequality in a country that prides itself as a protector of human rights and promoter of equality.” It further noted that “the lived experiences of racialized groups, is rooted in extreme and disparate poverty, inequality, racism, and general socioeconomic insecurity and deprivation.” Racialized groups in Canada experience the lowest levels of livelihood as part of the lived experience in Canada’s economic and social ladder. The poverty rate for racialized groups is three times the average of their white counterparts and their paucity is reflected in the social determinants of health.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) founded 100 years ago was created to forcibly displace indigenous people from their land. They were also responsible for enforcing the Indian Act (1876) and taking Indigenous children from their homes and putting them into residential schools. The historical relationships between the RCMP and indigenous peoples are narrated by incidents of serious human rights violation and incarceration without cause. The RCMP along with provincial and municipal apparatuses that are disguised as ‘serving and protecting’ citizens are a hegemonic representation of white supremacy and oppression for racial and marginalized groups. According to Statistics Canada (2016), Canada’s largest cities are heavily policed jurisdictions with Montreal having 229.2; Vancouver (196.3) and Toronto (189.8) police officers per 100,000; and they are militarized police forces, not services for racialized and marginalized people, as they may have you believe (see statistics below).
The racist policing patterns in Canada have subjugated and subjected racialized and marginalized groups, especially black and indigenous bodies to dehumanizing and oppressive treatment at the hands of institutionalized entities such as the police at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. Concomitantly, all levels of government have been unwilling or uninterested in effecting desired changes in legislation, policies and practices, or in taking definitive steps to ensure the economic, social and cultural rights of racialized groups. This is only done to reinforce and perpetuate what Canada’s first Prime Minister, John Alexander Macdonald entrenched — white privilege and protection of property — which he saw as the final proof of white people’s acculturation to colonial dominance.
he municipal, provincial and federal apparatuses and institutional agencies like the police and the criminal justice system, protects property and the vestiges of colonialism. While they indiscriminately dehumanize racialized and marginalized groups by violating their human rights. In Canada, denying black and indigenous bodies equity, quality access to social determinants of health and protection, they become victims of structural racism, systemic discrimination and racial inequality. The pundits (our politicians) would have you believe as they bend the truth, that Canada is a country that prides itself as a protector of human rights and promoter of equality, probably abroad, however, there is no equity at home for black and indigenous bodies.
As Robin Maynard, a PhD student at the University of Toronto and author of Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present, noted that racist policing is a pattern here in Canada. Her seminal work provides gleanings that give an insight into the powerful narrative that espouses over four hundred years of state-sanctioned surveillance, criminalization and punishment of Black lives in Canada. Building on her findings, Wilfrid Laurier University research highlighted “that degrees of safety vary throughout the country”, even though Canada remains one of the safest countries in the world, with a high relative standard of living and democratic freedoms. However, a key challenge in contemporary policing is finding ways to create trust between officers and the communities they serve, where the police are sometimes viewed as an occupying force.
In 2015 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission submitted its 96 point recommendations, after almost a decade of gathering testimony from surviving students of the residential school system that destroyed their indigeneity for over 100 years. Approximately 150,000 indigenous children were forcibly taken from their families, sometimes by the police, and sent to the residential schools that were administered by churches. According to the New York Times, a “principal recommendation is a step that has long been a sore point between aboriginal groups and the government. The report repeatedly calls on the government to fully adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the basis of a new relationship.” Which the Government of Canada have not signed along with the United States, Australia and New Zealand, citing the document as “non-legally-binding aspirational document.” Henceforth, denying indigenous peoples the legitimacy of tenure on their land.
Policing in Ontario and Quebec like the rest of Canada is built on systemic anti-black and anti-Indigenous racism, white supremacy, and, the denial of such that, is doing, is a move to reify and amplify the status quo. Which in turn, is meant to protect and normalize systemic discrimination and perpetuate white supremacy. The following highlights unmasking the veil of truth with policing in Canada (Amnesty International):
· Between 2007 and 2017, Canadian police were involved in at least 460 fatal conflicts with civilians.
· Between 2007 and 2017, one-third of the victims shot by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were indigenous people.
· The black community makes up 3.4% of Canada’s population (Statistics Canada, 2016) and are 9% of police fatalities (2020).
· The indigenous people makeup 5% of Canada’s population (Statistics Canada, 2016) and are 15% of police fatalities (2020).
· Black people in Toronto, Ontario are 20 times more likely to be shot dead by the police.
· Black people in Halifax, Nova Scotia are 6 times more likely to be carded by the police.
· Black drivers in Ottawa, Ontario are 2.3 times more likely to be stopped by the police.
· Black people are 4 times more likely to be stopped by police than a white person in Montreal, Quebec.
· Indigenous people overall are 4.61 times more likely to be stopped by police than a white person in Montreal, Quebec.
· An Arab person is 2 times more likely to be stopped by police than a white person in Montreal, Quebec.
Scholars like Dr. Cheryl Thompson, Assistant Professor at Ryerson University and Dr. Timothy Stanley, Professor, University of Ottawa purport that Canada “whitewashes its history on race, from its mistreatment of indigenous peoples to slavery to later racism like these minstrel shows, adopting an image of moving past race that stands (supposedly) in contrast to its uncouth southern neighbour”. Professor Thompson further noted that “Canadian post-racialism is characterized by its roots in a national claim to egalitarianism that is partly forged through an ostensible contrast to American racism,” The racism of the past, its centrality in Canadian life and state formation, have become marginal topics, things to be discussed in footnotes and sidebars, rather than things that are seen as having shaped and continuing to shape our everyday realities. At the time of writing the Prime Minister of Canada, the Hon. Justin Trudeau is yet to make a statement about the peaceful protests in major cities in Canada and globally on police brutality, structural racism and systemic discrimination which is entrenched and institutionalized in Canada also.
Knowledge is critical to understanding the storied veneer of our ‘Home and Native Land’, and a recognition of the dehumanizing and subjugated state-sponsored treatment of black and indigenous bodies must be acknowledged. We do not need a moment of silence for the deaths of black and indigenous bodies, because we’ve had enough. More will come, if we do not act as a nation to stop it and bring fundamental change. This needs to happen through an examination and deconstructing of the veil of deception and denial that structural and institutionalized racism does not exist. The self-evident presence of the protest tells us that it does exist; and it disproportionately affects black and indigenous bodies by denying them their inalienable right to a life free from fear, oppression and marginalization.
We need a new humanized social contract, where at the heart of it, is the inalienable and legitimate right of all sentient beings including black and indigenous peoples. The fundamental reframing of respect, dignity, freedom from oppression and protection of all citizens at home, regardless of class, colour or creed begins with this acknowledgement. Then the signing of the United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN International Decade of People of African Descent, which provides a key opportunity to address anti-Black racism in the justice system. Let us begin there…that's a start to healing our ‘Home and Native Land’ and make truth be our standard-bearer.
© 2020 Hugh Anthony, PhD
As premier denies systemic racism, black Quebecers point to their lived experience
Background: The Indian Act
Canada Free of Systemic Racism, Say Prominent Columnist and Quebec Premier (2020)
Canada, Too, Faces a Reckoning With History and Racism (2017)
Canada’s Forced Schooling of Aboriginal Children Was ‘Cultural Genocide,’ Report Finds (2015)
Canada’s Long-Awaited Apology (2016)
Canada’s Surprising History of Blackface (2019)
Contesting White Supremacy: An Interview with Professor Timothy Stanley
Legault calls on Quebecers to fight racism but denies existence of systemic racism in Quebec (2020)
Montreal police have ‘deep problem’ with systemic discrimination, report finds
Racial Segregation of Black People in Canada
Racism In Canada Is Ever-Present, But We Have A Long History Of Denial (2020)
Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2015)
The History of Policing in Canada (2019), Wilfrid Laurier University
Was John A. Macdonald a white supremacist?