Racism Exists in Canada, whether our Politicians Wish to Admit It or Not

by Ronalee Carey Law

May 2021

When I meet with prospective immigrants, I often ask them why they wish to move to Canada.  Their responses vary, but economic opportunities and respect for human rights are usually at the top of their lists. 

Unfortunately, this rosy picture of what life in Canada will be like is often not based on reality.  Though life in Canada is very different than in many places in the world, systemic racism still impacts the economic opportunities available to those from the global majority (considered racialized minorities in Canada).  Further, skin colour often predicts treatment by government officials, the police, and members of the community.

In 2020, an 80-year old immigrant from Vietnam was assaulted by teenagers in her community of Pembroke, located in the Ottawa Valley.   This prompted the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to interview Black, indigenous, and people of colour living in communities in the Ottawa Valley. 

Responses from the mayors of these communities were mixed.  The mayor of Pembroke admitted there was systemic racism in his community and vowed to address it.  However, the mayor in Renfrew denied the existence of any systematic racism in that community, only an hour’s drive from Ottawa, the country’s capital.  His constituents were quick to organize petitions and penned letters detailing their own experiences of racism to town councillors.  The mayor apologized for his remarks and committed to learning more about the problem.  In Arnprior, a community just half an hour from Ottawa, the mayor was found to have breached a code of conduct after having written an opinion letter to residents denying the existence of systemic racism in his community.

Racism is not confined to smaller communities in Canada.  Even in cities where populations are increasingly diverse, racism continues and is even increasing.  Data from the Ottawa Police Service for 2020 showed a rise in hate incidents against those of East Asian descent. 

I am the mother of three adopted children.  The younger two are Haitian, and the eldest is East Indian/Black.  My eldest remembers being told as a young teenager, ‘You’re pretty for a Black girl’.  My youngest, when she was old enough to go to our local shopping centre with her friends, would tell me that when she went with her white friends, there were never issues.  However, when she went with her Black friends, they would be tailed by security guards.

Recently, my youngest posted on Facebook about the impact she felt from years of microaggressions.  She wrote:

It is hard for me to express how I feel, but I need to be heard.  A lot of you may know me as someone who smiles, has a passion for cooking, etc.  This post may be shocking for some of you, and some may take it personally.  For a while now, I haven’t felt comfortable in my own skin at all.  It’s hard being a different race and for me being an African American woman is not something I’m happy about being at the moment.  I know it should be something I should be proud of.  It is extremely hard when people still make little unnecessary comments or even judge my choices such as how I wear my hair.  Judge me when you are perfect.  Choose your words wisely.  I would like the same respect as if I were your own child no matter the circumstances.  Both my parents who are Caucasian accepted me into their family.  Colour doesn’t matter to them.  But still to this day we have people who are uneducated and it’s hurtful.  A few times in my life I was scared to mention I was adopted, so I just let people assume my parents were Black.  But you know what, I’m human too.  Don’t treat me differently because of how I appear or make me feel out of place in this world.  I deserve to be here as much as you do.  I’m tired of people putting me down and because of that, not feeling okay in my own skin.  I don’t wish for anyone to feel this way.  If you can’t accept the way I feel you are free to leave, really, I don’t need that negativity in my life or around me.

This brave, strong young woman has the voice to speak up for herself.  Many others do not, especially those who came to Canada broken by war, domestic violence, political oppression, or any of the other reasons that cause people to seek asylum in other countries.

Canada needs immigrants.  We need immigrants to fill jobs, to allow Canada to grow economically, and to pay taxes to buttress our health care system as a wave of baby boomers moves into old age.  Canada hopes to bring over a million immigrants to Canada by 2023.  We must not bury our heads in the sand. Rather, we should recognize and address systemic racism in our institutions, our communities, and in our own beliefs, to make those immigrants feel as if they have come home.