Marchers take to the streets of Toronto Aug. 3 demanding an end to systemic racism in schools. Michael Swan

Editorial: Say no to racism

  • January 28, 2021

It has been 25 years since Canada celebrated its first Black History Month, a good time to take stock of how we, as a nation, have embraced the commitment to end racism.

The bottom line is there is still much to do.

It was on Dec. 14, 1995 that Jean Augustine, Canada’s first Black MP and a former principal with the Toronto Catholic school board, rose in the House of Commons to put forward a motion: “That this House take note of the important contribution of Black Canadians to the settlement, growth and development of Canada, the diversity of the Black community in Canada and its importance to the history of this country, and recognize February as Black History Month.” It was passed unanimously.

We have just marked Lincoln Alexander Day (Jan. 21), in tribute to Canada’s first Black MP who was a true champion of racial justice. Canadian Willie O’Ree, who broke the colour barrier in the NHL in 1958, just had his number retired by the Boston Bruins. Viola Desmond, who challenged racial segregation in Nova Scotia in the 1940s, now graces our $10 bill. 

There are many more who have done this country proud … the Blackburn family of underground railway fame, politician Rosemary Brown, runner Harry Jerome, poet George Elliott Clarke, never mind the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who put their faith in Canada and paid it back tenfold. 

For all the acknowledgement of achievements by Black Canadians, however, there is an undercurrent of troubling statistics. These numbers from the federal government are several years old, but recent enough to cause concern today:

• Racialized Canadians earn an average of 81 cents to the dollar compared to other Canadians.

• Black Canadians are twice as likely to be low-income compared to those outside the visible minority groups.

• Unemployment in the Black population is 40-per-cent higher than non-racialized communities.

An Ipsos poll last July found 60 per cent of Canadians considered racism a serious problem in Canada, compared to 47 per cent a year earlier. That poll came on the heels of massive Black Lives Matter demonstrations around the world after George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis.

The past six months have seen systemic racism move to the forefront of societal issues. And even while Canadians wince at the idea of being considered racist, history books and newspapers force us to look at a sometimes ugly reflection of ourselves.

“We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life,” Pope Francis said last summer.

His words have been echoed by Church leaders in Canada, and they bear repeating whenever and wherever we need to be reminded of what our multicultural society aspires to be.

Black History Month is a chance to reflect on that — to celebrate a heritage that is part of our nation’s foundation and to be every vigilant in standing guard against the sin of racism.

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