Racism in Canada is one of the least publicised problems modern Canadian society has faced in the Twenty First Century. With the majority of the Canadian and world public holding the census that Canada through its lax immigration policies and political reform, is far from a racist state. This belief is a falsehood that has either been achieved through white lies from history textbooks or a lack of endeavor to uncover the real racial issues that permeate through out Canada. Canada has been and is a racist nation that continues to not face the fact that racism is alive and well in Twenty First Century Canada.
Racism towards slaves coming to Canada in search of solace from the racist United States was not an uncommon occurrence in the mid 1800’s before the American civil war. Halifax was the last stop on the Underground Railroad, although what African Americans were coming to was a whole different story. The popular depiction is of slaves that were granted freedom and loved and welcomed into society, as evidenced by this television advertisement. (YouTube) The truth was a lot harsher. In Halifax the majority of freed black slaves resided in “Africville”, the atrocities of which are not widely known but are still keenly documented. In order to turn “Africville” from poor black slum to profitable industrial land, the city of Halifax erected a hospital for diseased WWII veterans nearby along with leaving massive mounds of toxic garbage to be incinerated in the same vicinity. (Taylin) “Africville” is not mentioned in Canadian history books nor do most people across Canada know of its existence. It was nothing short of genocide of people that Halifax felt did not deserve the rights any other Canadian citizen would take for granted. Racism towards black immigrants and natural-born Canadians was not and is not limited to “Africville” or even Nova Scotia for that matter. Don Oliver a Canadian senator pointed out how most Canadians do not know about great black Canadians.
Portia White was a classical musician that was known the world over, and Elijah McCoy’s invention of modern lubrication for industrial purposes were so famous that it is thought the catch phrase “The real McCoy” could have been named after him. (Oliver) History books as well as the public because of overt racism tend not to celebrate the successes of black Canadians. Although there are very notable exceptions especially in music such as popular rapper Drake and R&B singer The Weeknd, by and large only in sports and music are the successes of black Canadians prevalent in mainstream media. There have been numerous studies done to show the effect having colored skin has on every day life in Canada. Carlos Teixeira found that black Portuguese Immigrants faced significant disadvantages in housing in comparison to people who were not of color. The Study showed that in the rental market of Toronto, people of color could expect to pay on average 30% higher rental rates versus white counterparts of similar Portuguese descent.
He further concluded that people of Asian descent also were subjected to the same treatment. (Teixeira) A further study where over 6,000 mock resumes were sent out showed that applicants that had Chinese, Pakistani or Indian sounding names got 40% less call backs than those with English sounding names. Although it should be seen that this study was conducted in Toronto and a different result perhaps not as favorable towards English sounding names could have been found in Quebec or other parts of Canada. The key point is if racism exists in Canada’s most multicultural city, how widespread and to what severity is racism in the rest of Canada. (Oreopolous, Dechief) The Canadian armed forces are noted world wide as one of the top armed forces, and are known to pay the second highest salary behind only the Australian army. However the racism that Mr. Fowler and Mr. Coward experienced while serving was clearly targeted towards their color. (CBC NEWS) It is impossible to fathom the low level of respect garnered for these men who put their lives on the line every day to defend a country that does not give them the respect they deserve simply because of their color. It should be noted that their case is still in the process of being investigated so any judgment as to whether they were subjected to racism cannot be confirmed. A study into Canada’s judicial system showed alarming results that independent juries are more likely to find black defendants guilty approximately 40% of the time more frequently than defendants of other races.
This is worrying as it could have significant ramifications for Canadians of African descent residing in Canada. (Pfeifer, J. E. , Ogloff, J. R. P.) This combined with recent findings in 2011 that black prison populations have risen by 52% since 2000, means that this issue has gone unresolved. Points should further be raised that the majority of the black prisoners are young and are spending their formative years in prison. This could have a knock on effect where they find it hard to integrate properly into society and influence more friends and such and could land themselves back behind bars. This could lead to many defendants getting “caught in a cycle of criminality”. (Crawford) The facts show that with the current education, welfare and societal norms in place, more and more black youth are behind bars than before and it is thought they will only end up back behind bars. The racism of minorities is probably most controversial when analyzed in the context of the aboriginal peoples of Canada. This is because they were originally not a minority but rather a majority as Canada is technically their land.
The aboriginal people have been subjected to racism since the very beginning and the facts show it. “Aboriginal life expectancy is lower; they have fewer high school graduates, higher unemployment, almost twice as many infant deaths and spend more time in jail. They have lower incomes, enjoy fewer promotions in the workplace and remain, as a group, the poorest in Canada.” (Hutchings) The Indian Act was used to create “Indian Agents” which acted as sort of police for the aboriginal peoples but in truth denied them basic rights, such as the right to sit on juries, vote or permission was needed to do mundane tasks such as wearing traditional garments off the reserves. It was policies like these that truly segregated the aboriginal people from the mainstream consciousness and must have caused a chasm of sorts to exist between aboriginals and non-aboriginals.
To combat this chasm between aboriginals and non-aboriginals Duncan Campbell Scott and the department of Indian affairs came up with the policy of enfranchisement. At first voluntary but later forced enfranchisement was used to basically strip Aboriginals of their Indian status. Getting university degrees, becoming doctors or ministers meant enfranchisement. In short it was trying to send the message that once Aboriginals became civilized and held positions of power and respect within the community they should no longer be looked at as Indian. Furthermore in a sexist as well as a racist policy any Indian woman who married a non-Indian man would lose her status as an Indian as would her children.
Duncan Campbell Scott went on later to state: “Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question and no Indian Department.” (Hutchings) It was clear from that quote alone that the Canadian governments views on Aboriginals at that time was that they should not exist and should be absorbed into the community. Canada would later give up the goal of enfranchising Aboriginal peoples after the “Lovelace” case that was brought before the International Court of Human Rights led to the United Nations condemning Canada for its discriminatory policies. It would be 1985 when Canada would pass bill C-31 to remove the discriminatory parts of the Indian Act.
The Indian Act also gave the Canadian government the power to erect residential schools. Schools where pupils were malnourished, had to work to make up for inadequate funding and were taught “dumbed-down” subject material so that “To this end the curriculum in residential schools has been simplified and the practical instruction given is such as may be immediately of use to the pupil when he returns to the reserve after leaving school.” (Hutchings) This led to segregation of Indians and non-Indians from a very young age. The worst part about residential schools however was the physical and sexual abuse that went underway up until the 1970’s when schools started closing. Children’s tongues would be nailed down for speaking native languages, as well as having semi regular checks of genitalia. The abuse was so widespread and gruesome that the Canadian government pledged over three hundred and fifty million dollars to help the Aboriginal peoples that attended the residential schools.
The Canadian government continues to however maintain the Indian Act, which by sheer existence is a blatant act of racism. The act itself means that Aboriginal peoples are treated in a different way than other Canadian citizens, there is no other first world country in the world that has policies that differentiate people based solely on the race.
Canada is often seen as very welcoming towards the Asian peoples with a recent study by the Canadian Immigration showing that by 2031 it is predicted that white people will be in the minority in cities of Toronto and Vancouver. (Young) This however was not always the case with the infamous “Chinese head tax” that was invoked on Chinese immigrants. The tax rose from fifty dollars to five hundred dollars during the period of 1900 to 1903. This is inexcusable and blatantly targeted those not just of Chinese descent but rather “Orientals” in general. (Greengrass) The racism towards the Chinese reached a high on July 1, 1923 when the Chinese Immigration Act was invoked. It is more commonly known to Chinese Canadians as “Humiliation Day”. The act meant that only selected classes of Chinese immigrants would be granted entry into Canada, namely Diplomats, students, children of Canadians and Investors. Canada was now openly using racist policies to pick and choose which class of a certain race of people they wanted to enter their country. Only in May of 1939, was the Chinese Immigration Act receded. In general South East Asian’s were subjected to not being granted entry in Canada simply because of their race.
Between 1914 and 1920, only a single Indian was admitted into Canada because of the racist immigration policies in place. The discrimination against Indians came to a head when The “Komagatu-Maru” passenger vessel was denied entry into Vancouver even though there were three hundred and seventy six Indians on board having sailed all the way from China. (Greengrass) It is quite possible that the worst treatment towards “Orientals” was in fact towards the Japanese that called Canada home or were otherwise refugees. During the period of the second world war, in 1942 Japanese Canadians were forced to live in camps, the living conditions were only slightly better than the camps that the Nazi’s had built. (Greengrass) The Japanese people were subjected to a comparable fate as Jews would have felt in Nazi Germany, however there was no extermination or genocide on the scale of Nazi Germany. All in all, the biggest conclusion should come through a key exclusion. There is no racial prejudice that has been recorded towards that of “White Aryan” Canadians. Canada is a racist country and has clearly been one for some time.
Although the Canadian government has apologized and tried to make amends the clear sentiment still permeates through the people. It is something I personally felt while residing in Ottawa. Whether Canada likes it or not, by the year 2031, whites will no longer be of the majority in the two biggest cities in Canada. This brings a certain comfort as change is coming and there seems to be no way to halt it. Those who remain and insist on fielding racist views will be forced to change or may face racism on themselves. Although no two wrongs make a right, it is probably of no comfort to racist Canadians that history does repeat itself. I personally am of the belief that should Canada grow to appreciate what makes different cultures unique and create a “fusion culture” whereby different customs are integrated into Canadian customs, Canada as a whole will benefit.
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