Editor’s Note: There is reference to police violence in this story.
Systemic issues are like math problems – for people to understand them, they must be broken down into clear steps. Social media activists and reporters often fail to show their work. This does an injustice to the issues they are trying to solve.
So, this article will endeavour to show the work. Without simplifying the complexity of the issue. Without avoiding touchy subjects.
Systemic Issues Defined: Issues that occur due to problems inherent in the overall system, rather than an issue based on a specific or isolated problem.
In Short: News sources and social media tend to focus on specific incidents. In doing so, they often fail to demonstrate how particular events are caused by systemic issues. This makes it difficult for people to understand how these incidents relate to broader systems and structures.
Starting Specific: Regis, Abdirahman, and the Facts
Justice for Regis: The tragic death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a Black and Indigenous woman, made headlines across Canada. To many, it reinforced the reality that systemic racism was alive and well in Canada. What headlines failed to show to many was: how?
Why does this particular, devastating death reinforce a systemic issue?
- On May 27th, 2020, Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s mother called the police to de-escalate a domestic argument and bring her daughter to CAMH.
- Whatever transpired after the police arrived is the reason why there is now an open Special Investigations Unit case regarding her death.
- The official police report stated that she jumped off her balcony.
- Family members initially said the police pushed her off the balcony.
- Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s death has been deemed by many to be a result of police negligence.
- “Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders has announced he will be stepping down at the end of July, several months early and in the midst of mounting public pressure to scale back the service’s $1-billion budget and transform its approach to policing.”
Justice for Abdi: A similar situation happened four years ago in Ottawa, to another Black individual by the name of Abdirahman Abdi.
- Police failed to deescalate the situation.
- Abdirahman Abdi died at the hands of an Ottawa police officer.
- Coverage framed the story as if it were an accident or arose due to previous health issues; this was proven not to be the case.
- Manslaughter charges have been laid against Constable Montsio, who wore “assault gloves” reportedly purchased for him by his employer.
From Specific to Systemic: Lack of Security for Black Canadians
In both situations, the police were called to deescalate a situation and someone ended up dead.
What do you think this suggests to observers?
- Police protection does not mean protection for Black folks in Canada.
- Black Canadians are expected to just live with the fear that in many circumstances their lives are uniquely at risk.
- Stories like those of Regis Korchinski-Paquet and Abdirahman Abdi are the rule not the exception in Canada.
The disproportionate rate of deaths of Black Canadians at the hands of Canadian police further argues for the consistent lack of care for Black bodies in Canada. The consistent neglect for their well-being. The lack of understanding as to what this suggests to Black people in Canada.
- “Black Torontonians are 20 times more likely to be shot by police than the city’s white residents.”
- In police encounters, “Black people accounted for 37 per cent of victims. They make up slightly more than eight per cent of the population.”
- This is further complicated by a lack of a “national database for police use of force and deaths.”
Lack of care, neglect of quality of life, and lack of understanding of the experiences of Black people in Canada are not restricted to police violence.
Systemic: Where We Live, A Forced Migration
Canada Is Not Different
Think of a big city. Crowded apartment buildings with complexes populated by predominantly Black folks. Folks living in conditions comparable to majority-world nations. Most people would probably think of cities like Chicago or New York – American cities. Would you believe me if I told you those same conditions exist in Canada?
In Part 1 of the series, we covered how the forced displacement of Black folks in Canada is nothing new.
There are areas like this in Toronto. Areas where Black folks -whether newcomers to Canada or not- are forced to live due to their economic and social standing.
- There are Black folks in Canada who know that because of their income and because of their Blackness, their only option is to live in conditions with infestations, flooding, poor infrastructure, as well as many other issues.
- “First-generation Black Canadians make an average income of nearly $37,000, compared to an average income of $50,000 for new immigrants who are not members of a visible minority.”
- “Third-generation Black Canadians make an average income of $32,000, compared with $48,000 for Canadians who aren’t a visible minority.”
- The calculated placement of Black people in Toronto in relation to poverty, gang violence, over-policing, and the upholding of racial standing would be an entire article on its own relating to systemic anti-Black racism in Toronto.
Toronto is not the only place where this happens. In 2019, a neighbourhood belonging to one of Ottawa’s largest immigrant communities was forced to relocate in “the largest eviction campaign in Canada.” This neighbourhood is called Herongate and was home to a variety of immigrant nationalities, but most notably a strong Somalian community.
- This relocation was a forced displacement of more than 500 people from their homes, of which 70 percent are visible minorities and 50 percent are Black folks.
- In an attempt to beautify the area in conjunction with the neighbouring and predominantly White area – Alta Vista – Timbercreek Asset Management and the City of Ottawa forced individuals to move, demolished their homes, and poorly compensated those individuals after they were forced to give up their homes.
The story of Herongate has many parallels to Africville. From the lack of care and effort to restore/upkeep the neighbourhood by the city, to the disregard for the voices of those within the community.
The system and rhetoric that worked to push out Black folks in Halifax about 100 years ago were used again in Ottawa and Toronto as recently as last year.
When we discuss the continued displacement of Black folks in Canada, we are acknowledging that their voices, their comfort, and their freedom to live where they wish is not important.
These components are so oppressive that they are intrinsic in city planning and procedure and are therefore systemic. This is what makes anti-Blackness a systemic issue in Canada – it functions as a loop of repeated behaviour by those in power.
Bottom Line: Systemic anti-Black racism cannot be blamed on – or explained by – a single event.
Not one death, not one community being forced out of their homes, not one highly policed neighbourhood, but multiple. Multiple deaths, multiple Black communities throughout the nation being taken advantage of or harmed by a system that they have little to no access to.
I showed my work. Now so should you.
In the next and final portion of this series, I will discuss the access to this system. We have discussed Africville, a key part of Canada’s history of anti-Black racism. We have outlined how current events extend from systemic Anti-Black Racism. Next, we will discuss this system, what it means, what Black folks are doing in the system to create change, and what can realistically be done in the system to dismantle systemic issues.
- Just How Systemic Is Anti-Black Racism in Canada? Part 1: Africville
- Insights for Canada: George Floyd and the Anti-Racism Revolution | Op-Ed