How Canada's racism is a bigger problem than many people think

Elianna Lev
·6-min read
Demonstrators take part in a rally protesting the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet in downtown Toronto, Saturday May 30, 2020. Korchinski-Paquet, 29, fell from the balcony of a 24th-floor Toronto apartment while police were in the home. Thousands of protesters took to the streets to rally in the aftermath of high-profile, police-involved deaths in both Canada and the United States. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Demonstrators take part in a rally protesting the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet in downtown Toronto, Saturday May 30, 2020. Korchinski-Paquet, 29, fell from the balcony of a 24th-floor Toronto apartment while police were in the home. Thousands of protesters took to the streets to rally in the aftermath of high-profile, police-involved deaths in both Canada and the United States. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

Tensions between law enforcement officials and Canada’s Black community and allies remain high, following last week’s death of Toronto resident Regis Korchinski-Paquet.

The death of Korchinski-Paquet, who fell from her building after police officers entered her home and followed her onto her balcony, remains under investigation by the Special Investigations Unit. On Wednesday, police were advised by Ontario’s police watchdogs to not leak information to the media after information about the circumstances of the 29-year-old’s death were leaked to the Toronto Sun. Korchinski-Paquet’s family, on the advice of their legal counsel, have said they will not be speaking to the watchdog as the leak undermine’s the family’s trust in the investigation.

Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit said that officers were in the apartment, where they “observed a woman on the balcony” and “a short time later, she fell from the balcony to the ground below.” They are looking to speak with any witnesses about the allegations made by Korchinski-Paquet’s family. A fund has been launched in her name and the hashtag #JusticeForRegis has since been launched on social media.

For as much as Canada prides itself on diversity, one only needs to look to news headlines — and beyond — to understand that racism is very much alive. Activist Demond Cole notes that Korchinski-Paquet’s death comes after a series of police killings of Black and Indigenous people in Canada, including three homicides in April.

While the high-profile protests in the United States following the death of George Floyd and other Black men and women take place, some Canadians have been quick to say that things are better here than in the U.S. However the sentiments coming forward following Korchinski-Paquet’s death suggest that racism is not a solved issue in Canada, either.

Incidents of racism in Canada extend beyond anti-Black racism, as well. Since the beginning COVID-19 crisis, there’s been reports in the spike in anti-Asian racism. According to Race Relations in Canada 2019 Survey:

“Perceptions and knowledge about racism are based in part on seeing it happen to other people. A significant proportion of racialized Canadians (and especially Indigenous and Black people) report having witnessed the discrimination of others due to their race, including people of their own racial background as well as those with other backgrounds. Such observations have taken place in a range of settings most commonly on the street, on public transit, in stores and restaurants, and in the workplace.”

It’s clear that more needs to be done when it comes to education, action and ultimately, change across the country.

Perspectives

Racism thrives in Canada

In North America, our general understandings of destructive racial dynamics are typically mapped on to the US, where anti-blackness often appears to be more visible. I’m thinking of young men like Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice, who were taken from their families well before their time, because of society’s irrational fear of black boys. And the distinctiveness of these cases creates what lawyer and racial justice advocate Anthony Morgan calls a “Canadian racial exceptionalism,” the idea that Canada is somehow removed from the racial “messiness” that our neighbors down south are notorious for. In truth, Canada also has a whole lot to reckon with when it comes to the way it treats black people. And one thing that cannot be denied is the fact that racism, particularly anti-blackness, not only lives here, it thrives. - Tayo Bero, The Guardian

Modern racism is normalized

Racism is so deeply enmeshed in the fabric of our society’s social order that it often appears both natural and normal. It’s only the more crude and conspicuous forms of racism that are seen by most people as problematic. The majority of modern racism remains hidden beneath a veneer of normality. White Canadians are positioned with a structured advantage that produces unfair gains and unearned rewards while imposing impediments to employment, education, housing, and health care for Black people and other Canadians of colour. The result is ‘whiteness’ has become a concealed and unmarked category against which difference, specifically Black difference, is constructed. - Lorne Foster, Toronto Star

Racism and far-right ideology alive in Canada

It is estimated that there are more than 100 far-right and white supremacist groups scattered all across Canada...Lukewarm sympathy and the talk of diversity and inclusion that are on display time and again, particularly after tragedy has struck, are not sufficient to defeat the rise of far-right ideology. And especially not when the political machinery of the country has proven repeatedly that it is willing to tap into these sentiments for its own gain. - Neha Ahmed, CBC

All Canadians, and especially politicians, need to confront racism

It’s time to get over being nice and comfortable. It’s time to acknowledge that Canada’s race issues impact everyone, and to work toward understanding and validating the experiences of racialized Canadians. Mr. Trudeau loves to say that “diversity is Canada’s strength.” Diversity is also tough, challenging and sometimes outright frustrating because it requires listening, being open to what you don’t know, and letting go of what you think you do. At the same time, diversity is just the myth; anti-racism is the work. - Cheryl Thompson, New York Times

More action is needed

As difficult as it may be, it is time for us to recognize both the overt and systemic racism that has long simmered in [Vancouver], and the levels of complicity that have enabled it. Plenty of attention is given to the perpetrators of hate, but we cannot minimize the trauma contributed by public ambivalence. Apathy has never alleviated racism, and claiming to be "colourblind" can perpetuate inequalities. Purposeful and concerted actions of many people are necessary to change the trajectories of our histories. There must be education and awareness, interventions, and activism. - Carol Liao, CBC