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The Patterns of Systemic Racism in Canada

The Big Picture: Recent incidents of systemic racism seem to point to a troubling pattern of discrimination in multiple institutions of the country including healthcare, education, and employment among others. 


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Defining systemic racism: 

The glossary of the Data Standards for the Identification and Monitoring of Systemic Racism define such racism as consisting of:

“Organizational culture, policies, directives, practices or procedures that exclude, displace or marginalize some racialized groups or create unfair barriers for them to access valuable benefits and opportunities.

This is often the result of institutional biases in [the aforementioned institutions] that may appear neutral but have the effect of privileging some groups and disadvantaging others.”

Recent Patterns:

Against the Indigenous community

  • On September 29, 2020, in a hospital in Joliette, QB., an Atikamekw woman named Joyce Echaquan live-streamed a video on Facebook right before her death, capturing nurses degrading her with insults and profanities directed at her Indigenous background. Only one of the nurses in the video has been fired.
  • The mother of seven’s death was deemed “not acceptable” by Quebec Premier François Legault, who has acknowledged racism in the province but denied this case being one of systemic racism. Mary Hannaburg, vice-president of Quebec Native Women, said the nurse’s statements in the video “are of a racist nature.”
  • Retired Superior Court Justice Jacques Viens’s report from the same month stated it is “impossible to deny” that Indigenous people in Quebec are victims of “systemic discrimination” in accessing public services.
  • Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIW) in Canada still have continued to occur at high rates despite the completion of a national inquiry. Between 2016-2019, more than 130 Indigenous women and girls reported victims of homicide, suspicious death or died in institutional care.

Against the Black community

  • In September 2020, a 10-year-old Black boy was attacked by two white boys of the same age in the Township of Russell, Ontario. He was attacked with a scooter, called racial slurs including the N-word and suffered a broken arm. His mother said she does not feel safe in the area anymore, and that police were slow to respond and enact repercussions, saying the attack was “consensual” and “it’s not a crime to call someone a n—-”. 
  • A principal in Calgary was caught on video saying the N-word in front of a group of Black students, the students who captured the video were suspended and the principal has not yet apologized, despite a University of Ottawa law professor saying the suspended students can sue the school.

Muslim/Islamophobia attacks

  • Multiple Toronto Mosques have been attacked or vandalized with racist graffiti this past year alone, the Muslim community is calling for the police to investigate these as hate crimes.
  • Earlier this fall, a Muslim man, Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, was stabbed to death outside of the International Muslims Organization (IMO) mosque of Toronto. Following pushback from the Muslim community, Toronto police changed their investigation into Zafis’s homicide as first-degree murder with the possibility of a hate crime, despite their initial statements saying there was no known motive of the accused. 
  • “When the Quebec City Mosque attack happened, many of us prayed that this would be the last time we lost community members to Islamophobia and hate. We were wrong,” said Mustafa Farooq, CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) about the recent murder of Mohamed-Aslim Zafis at the IMO Mosque. “As the number of alt-right and neo-Nazi groups grows in Canada, we now know that without action today, it will simply be a matter of time before the next attack.”

Anti-Asian Discrimination

  • A recent article from September 2020 depicts the increase in anti-Asian racism in Canada outnumbering those in the USA. This includes physical assault, racial slurs and threats, seemingly exacerbated by COVID-19, particularly in B.C.
  • Following COVID-19 outbreaks in Alberta’s Cargill meatpacking plant, many Filipino workers were scapegoated for the spread of the virus. This was despite the fact that report showed the company and government inspectors failed to enforce proper safety measures and regulations causing the outbreak. 
  • Even Canada’s chief health minister Theresa Tam’s loyalty was questioned by Conservative MP Derek Sloan, who asked if she was working for “China or Canada.”

Calls for action

Various advocacy groups are trying to raise money, awareness and action against hate crimes and systemic racism attacks.Chart 6 Number of police-reported hate crimes motivated by race or ethnicity, Canada, 2016, 2017 and 2018

  • As part of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ interim report, the Government of Canada has allocated $50 million to fund health and support services of families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, support a national oversight at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and review police policies and practices.
  • The inquiry aims to prevent systemic violence and other issues by eliminating gender discrimination, enacting legislation respecting Indigenous languages and reforming child and family services systems, and investing in education, housing, and community-based supports.
  • M.P. Pablo Rodriguez said that the more than $13 million commemorations in initiatives “are making a concrete contribution to the Government of Canada’s efforts to raise awareness of this national tragedy and to put an end to it”, and this project is “making a real difference in the lives of people of Nunavik, but also the entire province.”  
  • The NCCM is calling for the Government of Canada to dismantle white supremacy and neo-Nazi groups that threaten Black, Indigenous, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and other communities.
  • In an open letter to PM Trudeau, the NCCM stated, “this attack is one in a long series of a chain of horrifying attacks on racialized communities in Canada.”
  • Using sections of the Criminal code and Terror Listing provisions to band white supremacist militias from operating in the country, as more than 300 alt-right groups are currently active, and enforce national security agencies to take these acts seriously as a threat that requires investigation and action.
  • Advocate Robin Browne of 613-819 Black Hub said he’s reached out to the Ontario Provincial Police’s Russell detachment and principal of the school of the alleged white boys who attacked the 10-year-old Black boy to investigate systemic racism within the police department and punishment or racist language for the boys.
  • The Black Lives Matter organization in Canada also calls for similar policing and education to support minorities, namely the end of racist exclusion and that officers who murder civilians are no longer working.
  • Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil apologized for systemic racism in the justice system in September 2020, specifically against the Black and Indigenous peoples, and the provincial government is moving to restructure the system to eliminate racism and promote equality. 

The Bottom Line: While these are only some examples of the impact of systemic racism in Canada, these underlying systemic biases seem to lead to larger risk towards these groups. It seems easy to compare Canada to the USA in terms of the gravity of racism, but complacency to these issues here seems to lead to the lack of action against systemic racism and the risk of more incidents in citizens. 


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