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The deep roots of racism right here in Canada

June 22, 2020

By Janelle Brady

Protesters hold banner that reads not another black life

Not Another Black Life protest after the death of Regist Korchinski-Paquet (Photo credit: flickr/Jason Hargrove)


Janelle Brady is an anti-racist educator, activist-researcher, and community organizer. She is a doctoral candidate at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, where she is a Senior Coordinator for the Centre for Integrative Anti-Racism Studies (CIARS). She is also a part-time faculty member at George Brown College where she teaches sociology.

People across Canada, the US and around the world are protesting anti-Black racism and police brutality. The on-going and widespread protests are sparked by the callous killing of 46-year-old unarmed Black man, George Floyd, by police in Minneapolis.

Despite the fact it seems like everyone is speaking about racism, police brutality and anti-Black racism are not new. Protestors are protesting the recent killings of Black people like 26-year old frontline worker, Breonna Taylor, and 25-year-old man, Ahmaud Arbery, who was pursued and killed by two white men while he was out jogging.

When Black women are killed by the police their stories tend to silently fade in the background and even more so for the Black trans community, like the recent killing of Tony McDade by police.

Although the US is receiving a lot of attention right now, it is important to remember that Canada is not immune to racism. Black and Indigenous people have fought systemic racism for centuries and it is still alive and well today.

With the increased militarization of policing during COVID-19, Indigenous people have been unjustly targeted right here in Canada by the police. Just in April, within the span of just 10 days in Winnipeg, three young Indigenous people were killed by the police: 16-year-old Eishia Hudson, 36-year-old Jason Collins, and 22-year-old Kevin Andrews.

Recently on June 4th, 26-year-old Indigenous woman Chantel Moore was fatally shot by police during a wellness check in New Brunswick. Like Chantel’s story, when Black people call the police for help during mental health crises, they are also met with violence and death. In early April, 26-year-old D’Andre Campbell was shot in front of his family by police also when he called for mental health support in Brampton.

Here in Toronto, an investigation is underway regarding Regis Korchinski-Paquet - the 29-year-old Afro-Indigenous woman who fell to her death from the 24th floor after her family called the police for mental health support. Her mother and family maintain that the police caused her death. Regis’s death sparked the #NotAnotherBlackLife protest in Toronto and others across Canada. And within the same month in London, Ontario, 27-year-old Caleb Tubila Njoko, also lost his life from the balcony when his mother called the police for help. Something is clearly not working with the policing system for Black and Indigenous communities in Canada which is why there are marches and protests taking place demanding racial justice.

Report after report illustrates how traumatic the histories of Black and Indigenous people in Canada are. Notably the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions’ report which illuminated the atrocities of residential schools in Canada. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girl’s (MMIWG) Inquiry highlighted violence and injustice faced by Indigenous women and girls with little to no attention or priority by the federal government. The final MMIWG report was released just over one year ago and today there is yet to be any plan in place to take action.

Anti-Black racism is well documented in Canada too:

  • The Ontario Human Rights Commission released a report in 2018 which states that Black people are 20 times more likely to be die at the hands of police than white people
  • Canada has its own long history of slavery and segregation
  • Black women fought to become nurses in Canada, just one of examples of professions which denied or barred Black people from education in the not too distant past
  • According to Statistics Canada report ‘Canada’s Black population: Education, Labour and Resilience’, 7 in 10 Black people have a postsecondary education which is not matched by employment (for example in 2016, among those with postsecondary education the unemployment rate was 9.2% for Black people compared to 5.3% for the rest of the population)
  • Anti-Black racism is well documented in the education system with the well-documented issue of higher rates of suspension and expulsion of Black students starts at a very young age. For example, the 48-pound, 6-year old girl who was cuffed at the wrist and ankles by police for 28 minutes in a Mississauga school.

Black activists, community leaders and researchers are calling to defund the police. Too many lives have been taken by the police, and especially when they call the police for help. If a system is not working for one segment of our population, we need to reimagine something better.

The question of whether Canada has a race problem is circular to say the least and it is a problem that we have already acknowledged year after year. I propose that now is about time we move to action and reflection for a change?

June marks National Indigenous History Month and though history is important, we must learn our history to know how injustices have become deeply embedded in our institutions today and that includes policing. This gives way for deep thinking and action because the struggle for racial justice is connected to the struggle for Indigenous self-determination.

It is time for our allies to act. Non-Black racialized communities must demand justice which can happen through an awareness of the history of Black protest that has benefited these communities, like Black protestors who fought for reform to Canada’s earlier ‘whites-only’ immigration policy. These protests have benefited other non-Black racialized communities, and because of this, Black and non-Black racialized communities should be aware of Indigenous land and the violent histories of oppression leading to this point. These communities must be in solidarity.

Finally, white community members must use their privilege to speak out and demand change on the interpersonal and institutional levels. The fight for justice will not be won by Black and Indigenous communities alone.

How will you demand change?


This article was orginally published in the Downsview Advocate on June 15, 2020.