February is Black History Month. It’s a time to celebrate the stories and significant contributions of Black Canadians to our province and our country. In fact, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) came into being more than half a century ago under the leadership of Daniel G. Hill, who as a Black man faced prejudice and exclusion while simply trying to find a place to live.
So we must also recognize that racial discrimination is part of the history of many Black Ontarians. Sadly, this history extends into the present. Black and other racialized communities continue to face subtle, systemic and sometimes overt discrimination, and hate crimes in Ontario. Last month, for example, the Parkdale United Church in Ottawa, with a largely Black congregation, was spray-painted with racist graffiti ahead of a special service honouring Martin Luther King Jr.
Black people, especially young men, are being singled out and targeted in police street checks due to racial profiling that is prohibited under Ontario’s Human Rights Code. We see Black people overrepresented in our criminal justice system. Black children are overrepresented in protective care. And we continue to see many cases where Black people are profiled and treated differently in shops, schools and services due to persistent and widespread anti-Black racism.
The Ontario Human Rights Code recognizes that every person has the right to be free from these and other forms of racial discrimination and harassment. At the OHRC, our mandate includes identifying and addressing systemic discrimination, and we are applying our inquiry, legal and policy-related powers to challenge racial discrimination in all its forms.
For example, we have been working closely with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to ensure that their proposed regulation on street checks clearly prohibits racial profiling. We are also in the early stages of drafting a new policy on identifying and preventing racial profiling. We are consulting with the community, and will be meeting with a team of academic researchers later this month at York University. This “policy dialogue” will include a public lecture featuring some of the top experts on racial profiling in North America.
We are also calling on children’s aid societies, with the help of government, to collect race-based data and address the goal of preventing and reducing the overrepresentation of Indigenous and racialized children and youth in the child welfare system.
And earlier today, we announced that the OHRC is intervening in Roberts v. Toronto Police Services Board, an application before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) that raises the issues of racial profiling and discriminatory use of force against young Black men.
These steps are part of our efforts to promote positive change in the lived experience of Black Ontarians. But we’re not alone in this work. We continue to benefit from the tireless advocacy of Black community leaders who are taking steps “on the ground” to identify and clearly condemn anti-Black racism.
I encourage you to explore the resources available through the Ontario Black History Society (www.blackhistorysociety.ca), and to attend events celebrating Black history Month.
But perhaps most importantly, I encourage you to become part of the growing chorus of voices calling for an end to systemic racism in our province. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent.” Let us take up this challenge not just this month but every day of the year.
Renu Mandhane, J.D., LL.M
Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC)