A sculpture called "Gossip" in Winnipeg. Photo/Wikimedia Commons via Dan McKay (CC BY 2.0)

Combat racism

  • January 29, 2015

A recent cover story in Maclean’s magazine christened Winnipeg as Canada’s most racist city. Even if it were possible to prove that claim — that Winnipeg is more bigoted than Vancouver,  Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, etc. —  censuring one Canadian city that way is an unworthy exercise.

But where Maclean’s deserves credit is in making a forceful case for how no society, even one that considers itself among the world’s most tolerant and progressive, can afford to ignore racism. Racism is pervasive and destructive. And it needs to be addressed nationwide as the face of Canada continues to change.

To his credit, the mayor of  Winnipeg has pledged to do exactly that. The easy political play for Mayor Brian Bowman, a Metis, would have been to scoff at the magazine’s damning assessment of  Winnipeg and, as they say, shoot the messenger. Instead, he accepted the criticism and vowed to lead the nation and “shine a light” on racism.

His reaction was unexpected but welcomed. The cover story claimed Canada has a bigger race issue than the United States and it cited Winnipeg as the epicentre of the problem. It claimed aboriginal citizens in the Manitoba capital routinely confront discrimination, poverty and violence and generally endure “subhuman treatment,” particularly in the poor inner-city.

But this is hardly just a Winnipeg problem. Racially insensitive policies from Ottawa reaching back to previous centuries have contributed today to an aboriginal person being twice as likely to be unemployed, 10 times more likely to go to jail, six times more likely to be murdered and almost three times more likely to drop out of school. On average, aboriginals in Canada live 10 years less than other Canadians.

So it would be mistaken to make racism a Winnipeg issue. Racism should be a national priority. And not just an aboriginal one. In Canada’s largest cities, racism is a daily fact for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants and refugees who have arrived in recent decades from Caribbean, African and Asian nations. More than 200 ethnic groups call Canada home, and one-third of Canada’s population will be from a visible minority by 2031, according to Statistics Canada.

Governments at all levels need to develop policies that address the social and economic hardships that confront aboriginal people and Canada’s waves of immigrants. But it is up to all of society to encourage vote-conscious politicians down that path, and to never cease championing the causes of equality and tolerance in our homes, schools, workplaces and public spaces.

More than just an indignity inflicted on its victims, racism diminishes all Canadians. Ending it should be a national priority and a shared responsibility.

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