Recently the Prime Minister of Canada asked all of Canada’s provincial and territorial leaders to sign a joint declaration condemning racism. However some Premiers were unwilling to do that unless the statement did not refer to systemic racism. They did not want to admit that there is systemic racism in Canada. So that expression was left out. Did this make senses?
The Premier of Quebec Francois Legault said he does not believe “in the existence of systemic racism in Quebec.” Manitoba’s Premier Brian Pallister argued that it was not necessary to use the word “systemic” because it was implied. He did not admit that he was one of the Premiers who refused to sign the declaration with that word in, but many think he was. Is it a dirty word? If it is implied as Pallister suggests, why not make it explicit? Isn’t it time to be honest? We will never tackle racism until we openly acknowledge we have it. We can’t confront it unless we do so honestly. This is no time to get tricky with the wording.
Some of my friends have challenged my view that in Canada we have a system of racism. I have been trying to respond to the challenge. It will take some time however to do that thoroughly. I have been wondering if perhaps we do not agree on a common definition of system racism.
Dan Lett of the Winnipeg Free Press had an interesting recent comment on this issue:
“The concept of “institutional racism” was first expressed by Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton in their 1967 book, Black Power” the Politics of Liberation. The authors argued there needed to be a distinct recognition of “less overt, far more subtle” forms of racism that were present “in the operation of established and respected forces in society.
Over the decades since the idea was first cast, social science has proven systemic racism is hardly theoretical. People of colour in countries around the world are regularly subjected to race-based bias in everything from health care to financial services, education, employment, income, and housing. The data is abundant and incontrovertible.
In the face of all this evidence, the mostly white people who dominate the “established and respected forces in society” have tried to suggest—as Legault did in his comments—systemic racism means a system where everyone in it is a racist. In making this argument Legault is trying to portray the idea of systemic racism in indemonstrable terms.”
I agree. I don’t think everyone in Canada is a racist, though I think we live in a racist system. Like Lett I think the evidence for that is “abundant and incontrovertible.” I have been trying to demonstrate that in my posts.
It is important for us to acknowledge the truth and by that I mean the whole truth. We have had many racists in this country. We still do. But just as important we must acknowledge the system of racism too.
Senator Murray Sinclair, formerly a justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench in Manitoba, and most well known for heading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, led an inquiry into the Thunder Bay Police Service and reached the conclusion “systemic racism exists in the TBPS at an institutional level.” He was interviewed by the Globe and Mail where he said, it is ultimately pointless to acknowledge racism without also dealing with its systemic constructs. I explained to them that it’s the system itself that is founded upon beliefs and attitudes and policies that virtually force even the non-racist person to behave in a racist way. If you get rid of all the racists in every police force, you’ll still have a system racism problem.”
Lett was quite critical of Manitoba’s Premier for failing to acknowledge publicly the systemic problem of racism. Here is what he said,
“Offering to address a problem while denying one of the major ways it exists is one of the last refuges of cowards. It’s a pathetic attempt to done the robes of progressives while performing the quiet work of an agent of the status quo.’
Those are tough words, but I believe appropriate.
In the report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report one of the descendants of Survivors (of Residential Schools) Daniel Elliot put it well and succinctly to the Commission: “I think all Canadians need to stop and take a look and not look away.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Report itself said, “Without truth, justice, and healing, there can be no genuine reconciliation. Reconciliation is not about ‘closing a sad chapter of Canada’s past,’ but about opening new healing pathways of reconciliation that are forged in truth and justice.”
No truth no justice. That’s how I put it.