Presence of Racism and Discrimination within Canadian Institutions

October 27, 2020

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Senator Plett’s inquiry. I would like to begin by thanking Senator Plett for initiating this much-needed inquiry into the presence of racism and discrimination within Canadian institutions.

Indeed, examples of continued bias against Black, Indigenous, Muslim, Jewish and other racialized people across our country are unfortunately endless. To believe that the Canadian Multiculturalism Act is sufficient in binding us together is proof of our institutional leaders’ privilege.

This is especially true in regard to the lack of consensus on a definition of systemic racism in Canada. Might I add that this is certainly not from a lack of scientific research on the topic but rather an unwillingness to see inequality. For example, Carol Tator and Dr. Frances Henry, who are among Canada’s leading experts in the study of racism, defined systemic racism over a decade ago as the:

. . . laws, rules and norms woven into the social system that result in an unequal distribution of economic, political, and social resources and rewards among various racial groups.

The continued rise of Islamophobia in Canada is a perfect example of commonplace racism and the dangers associated with the absence of specific legislation. A downtown Toronto mosque was recently closed after receiving multiple violent and offensive threats by email. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case, following repeated acts of vandalism, public harassment and the stabbing of a volunteer mosque caretaker.

This rise in religious intolerance isn’t a new phenomenon. The software company Cision documented a 600% rise in hate speech using hashtags such as #banmuslims and #siegheil on social media in 2016. More recently, social media platforms have been used to spread Islamophobic disinformation, exacerbated by the pandemic, suggesting that Muslims are spreaders of COVID-19.

Acts of anti-Semitism are also on the rise, with violent attacks against the Jewish community increasing by 27% across Canada in the last year, and 62.8% in Ontario alone. Condemning hate groups is important, but it needs to be followed with serious action. As Canadians, we should be able to visit our places of worship without any fear.

Chinese-Canadians have also been subjected to a sharp increase in hate, with 600 incidents of anti-Asian racism being reported since the emergence of COVID-19. An Angus Reid poll found that half of the Chinese-Canadians surveyed had been victims of hate speech as a result of COVID-19, and 43% reported being threatened and intimidated.

These hate crimes do not happen in a vacuum. They are the result of unchecked prejudices, acts of bias and discrimination. It is the responsibility of all Canadians to stop hate around them. If we’re intervening only when there are actual threats and acts of violence, it’s already too late.

Honourable senators, it is our duty to protect all Canadians with clear and precise legislation; legislation that must be implemented. Otherwise it’s just a piece of paper. As experience shows, any lack of clarity may be interpreted as a licence for violence. Thank you.

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