No Turbans: Racism in Canada

As we meander through western Canada we see many interesting things. Some of them are in biffies. In a road-side rest area in Alberta near Ross Creek I saw a hand painted sign on a towel dispenser. It was a rough outline of Alberta with two words written inside–“No turbans.” That is my photograph of it. (I felt weird carrying a camera into a buffie)  It revealed an ugly side to Canada, far removed from the liberal tolerant people we like to think we are. Sadly, racism and hate seem to be on a sharp upswing in the countries of the west and Canada is not immune.

Canadians are often smug when they compare themselves to Americans. Canadians assumethey are better. Sadly, the evidence is not always so clearly in favor of Canada.

I think the most telling case was the case of Brian Sinclair in Winnipeg. He was a 45-year old indigenous man who died from an entirely treatable infection after being ignored for 34 hours in a city ER. It was a clear case of staff in the hospital obviously thinking (what a poor choice of words!) that Sinclair was just another drunken Indian waiting for help.

Then there was the case of the wife of a Winnipeg lawyer and city councilman Gord Steeves. His wife was discovered making a racist rant online. At the time he was the front runner in the race to be mayor of Winnipeg. This is what she posted: “I’m really tired of getting harassed by the drunken native guys downtown”, she wrote on Facebook.  Then she went on, “We all donate enough money to keep their sorry asses on welfare, so shut the f–k up and don’t ask me for another handout!” The former city councillor and long-serving, centrist politician didn’t bother apologizing. What was the point?

This is what Terry Glavin wrote in the Ottawa Citizen: “By almost every measurable indicator, the Aboriginal population in Canada is treated worse and lives with more hardship than the African-American population. All these facts tell us one thing: Canada has a race problem, too.”

Here are some shocking statistics and comparisons from Terry Glavin made a few years ago which are still pertinent:

“The median income of African-American men is about $31,000. Among white American men it’s $42,000. In Canada, the median annual income for Aboriginal people living off-reserve is $22,500 (among those living on Indian reserves it’s $14,000); the average annual income for Canadian wage workers in general is about $48,000.

The unemployment rate among working-age Aboriginal people in Canada is 13 per cent – more than twice the general jobless rate among working-age Canadians. This is every bit as wide a gap as between African-American men and white American men.

Comparing welfare rates makes Canada look far worse. Slightly more than 10 per cent of African-Americans are on welfare, but in Canada, roughly a third of Aboriginal people are on welfare or some other form of income assistance.

Canada looks worse again when we look inside the prisons. African-Americans make up only about 12 per cent of the U.S. population, but 40 per cent of the U.S. prison population is African-American. A mere four per cent of Canadians are Aboriginal, but more than 23 per cent of the inmate population in federal institutions are Aboriginal people – an incarceration r         ate 10 times higher than among non-Aboriginal people.

Things are going downhill, too. Over the past decade, the Aboriginal population in federal prisons has grown by more than 50 per cent. In Western Canada, two-thirds of the inmates in federal and provincial institutions are Aboriginal people.

About 28 per cent of African-Americans are stuck with something less than a high school education – half again higher than the rate among white people. In Canada, about 29 per cent of Aboriginal people have less than a high-school education, compared to 12 per cent of non-Aboriginal people.

While a third of African-American children entering high school will drop out – twice the rate of white kids – current drop-out rates indicate that more than half of Canada’s Aboriginal kids probably won’t finish high school. That’s a drop-out rate roughly six times higher than among non-Aboriginal kids.

On reserves, 74 per cent of schools are so dilapidated they lack such basic amenities as drinking water. More than half the schools function without a library, a gymnasium, a science laboratory, or a kitchen. Of Canada’s nearly 1.5 million Aboriginal people, about half are under 15 years of age.

“How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” Martin Luther King proclaimed all those years ago.

African-Americans might be forgiven for every once in a while losing patience with how long it’s taking that arc to fully bend towards them. For Canada’s young Aboriginal people, it’s not clear that the arc of the moral universe is even bending in their direction at all.”

Obviously we still have a l long way to go.

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