Racism in Canada: A Look into racism in Canada and some of the cause of it.

Due to its immense size, Canada has relied upon much immigration and colonization as a way of securing territory, protecting its borders, and bolstering its workforce throughout its history. Because Canada is still a young country, it has yet to produce a culture that can be distinctly identified as its own; however, this perceived lack of cultural identity could merely be an illusion created, in part, by the multitude of cultures it already contains. Canadians are fortunate to be able to experience a multifarious society in which a citizen may walk down the street and encounter people speaking Chinese, Japanese, Cantonese, Hindi, or Korean, among others as their first languages. Unfortunately, despite its ethnic diversity Canada is free of neither racism nor ethnic conflicts. Many people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds find that barriers still exist today which infringe upon their basic human rights. Worst of all, these barriers are not just the creation of one portion of society; they originate from politics, social attitudes, and unfair, bias portrayals by the media.

Racism in Canada

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Some people would argue that since the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) was inducted, much effort has been made to improve equality in Canada and they would be right to assume that. The Charter states:

Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability. {Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms s.15 (1)}

However, there have been many criticisms concerning the charter. One being that it fails to define both discrimination and race which then leaves the definition to the courts. (Henry et al.: 261) This is less than ideal because it allows precedents to be set which could undermine the very rights the charter was created to protect.  It is also stated in section 33 of the Charter that “Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare […] that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.” {CCRF s.33 (1)} This means that, through a parliamentary or legislative act, the government can repeal any of the basic rights, equalities, and freedoms granted to Canadian citizens whenever they deem it appropriate. It is further stipulated in subsections three through five that any legislation passed in subsection one will cease to be in effect after a five-year period; however, “Parliament or the legislature of a province may re-enact a declaration made under subsection (1).” {CCRF s.33 (4)} The re-enactment of any declaration is still subject to a five-year life span but there is no provision preventing re-enactment ad infinitum.

Two other criticisms noted in The Color of Democracy (Henry et al.) are the lack of a clause promoting the proactive reduction of racism, and the assumption that “equality exists; only lapses from it need to be addressed.” (261) The answer to the former criticism came in the form of The Canadian Multiculturalism Act (1988) which promised to “recognize and promote” multiculturalism as a part of Canadian heritage and acknowledge “the understanding that multiculturalism reflects the cultural and racial diversity of Canadian society.” {s.3 (1) (a)} In section two of the Act it assures Canadians that “[Canadian citizens] of all origins [will] have an equal opportunity to obtain employment and advancement in those institutions.” {CMA s.3 (2) (a)} The downside to this Act is that it is focused on maintaining current lifestyles and not giving people of diverse cultural and ethnic background significant chances for improvement. (Henry et al.) What needs to be established are accessible language training services, access to counseling, and the recognition of foreign credentials. (Henry et. all) Recent efforts in the recognition of foreign credentials are evident with the development of the Foreign Credential Recognition Program (2002); however, it is still in the early stages and, as of yet, not much information has been published. The later criticism regarding the current existence of racial and ethnic equality needs to be considered seriously. There are still many reports of discrimination in Canada such as the concerns of racism in Ontario’s criminal justice system (Allahar et al.: 178-179), ongoing land claim issues with the Aboriginal people of Canada, and the discrimination against taxi drivers of African descent in Montreal. (Bolaria et al.: 7)  In order for our country to mature morally, more effort must be made by the government to actively reduce racism by assuring that rights and equalities guaranteed in the CCRF and the CMA are put into effect in an accessible manner and maintained through periodical audits.

Education

Schools are often thought of as places of culture and intellect. Many of the world’s greatest minds are the product of our education system, so it is surprising to learn that some of the most abhorrent acts in Canadian history could be committed in the name of education. Beginning in the 1880s Christian missionaries set up boarding schools in an effort to “civilize” the Canadian Aboriginal community. (Allahar et al.: 131) These schools lasted until the 1970s and the students of them suffered many physical and mental abuses. Not only were they torn from their families, but they were also stripped of their culture and their dignity. The effects of these schools on the Aboriginal people have had various impacts and are the cause of many problems related to today’s Aboriginal society. Psychological abuse as children caused by boarding schools has led some First Nations people to feel socially disjointed. This, in turn, has driven a few to try to escape this reality by using drugs and alcohol. Sadly, a stereotype exists today which depicts all First Nations people as alcoholics and degenerates. Aside from its detestably racist nature, the worst insult in this stereotype may lie in the fact that the people who created it also put their victims in that situation.

Today, most ethnically diverse students come from immigrant families and are no longer schooled in separate institutions. (Allahar et al.: 132) However, this does not mean schools are free of racism yet. In fact, they are far from it. Current curricula are horribly Eurocentric and focused on a male-oriented history. (Allahar et al.: 132) Due to this Eurocentric focus, many immigrant children will be at a disadvantage from the beginning because they do not share a common heritage with the majority. (Allahar et al.: 132) This lack of sensitivity to the cultural and ethnic diversity in schools needs to be remedied so that all students can have an equal opportunity to learn about their own personal heritage while still learning the history of the country they now call their home. A greater understanding of their own cultural heritage and the heritage of other cultures would benefit all students and lead to acceptance and reduced racial bias.

Canadian media

The media is an extraordinarily influential tool that shapes the way many people view their country. In fact, many White people rely on the media entirely for information regarding minorities and their issues. (Henry et al.: 232)  The problem lies in the fact that although they are “espousing democratic values of fairness, equality, and freedom of expression,” the media is a business and will write what sells. (Henry et al.: 232) More often than not, the stories that sell are controversial and negative and often play up racial stereotypes. This type of information leads to a relationship between a large part of the White community and minorities that is filtered through the perceptions and personal interpretations of journalists and other media centers. (Henry et al. 232) Negative media of this sort only serves to promote racially biased behavior and endorse bigotry.

Another major concern with Canadian media is the lack of representation by minorities in the field. Many ethnic groups feel that they are invisible in the media and have trouble finding news that is pertinent to them. (Henry et al.: 233) There is a decisive lack of minority anchors, reporters, experts, and actors on our television and in our newspapers. (Henry et al.: 233) This gap of representation is usually the result of “systemic discrimination” that exists because of the need for referrals from directors, writers, and producers, the majority of which are White. (Henry et al.: 233) Some channels local to Victoria, such as Global or CityTV, have made a visible effort to produce a more multicultural face by employing more anchors and TV show hosts originating from minority groups. These types of actively equal rights businesses should be supported, recognized, and commended for their ongoing efforts.

Multiculturalism

Canada’s multiculturalism is one of its most valuable attributes and fortunately this is something that is recognized by its government. However, there is still much work to be done if Canada is to become a truly multicultural country free from discrimination and prejudice. To achieve this goal constant vigilance and the self-critiquing eye is required by the government. New legislation must be passed that actively assures equality and opportunity for all Canadian citizens. Furthermore, society as a whole needs to rid itself of its counterproductive racist and judgmental attitudes. Inroads can only be made on this front through education and understanding. Every Canadian should make it their personal responsibility to educate themselves and others about the destructive nature of racism. This responsibility also extends to the media who, because of their significant influence, must be the wariest of the notions they are promoting. Unfortunately, as things now stand, many people who represent an important element of what makes Canada what it is life in a world of arbitrary restrictions put on them not because of their qualifications or who they are, but because of the color of their skin or the heritage of their ancestors. With proper attention to detail from its government and citizens, there is no doubt that Canada can become the first country to be truly free of racism and racial prejudice.

Works Cited

  • Allahar, Anton, et al. Racism & Social Inequality in Canada. Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing, Inc., 1998.
  • Bolaria, B. Singh, and Peter S. Li. Racial Oppression in Canada. Toronto: Garamond Press, 1985.
  • “Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” Department of Justice Canada. 11 Apr. 2006 <http://lois.justice.gc.ca/en/charter/#egalite>.
  • “Canadian Multiculturalism Act.” Department of Justice Canada. 11 Apr. 2006 <http://lois.justice.gc.ca/en/C-18.7/226879.html>.
  • Henry, Frances, Carol Tator, and Winston Mattis. The Color of Democracy: Racism in Canadian Society. Toronto: Harcourt Brace & Company Canada, Ltd., 1995.
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