Not just today – let’s challenge racism every day
It’s easy to identify discrimination when we hear hateful slurs or overt forms of bigotry. However, there are also many examples of more subtle – but equally pernicious – racism and racial discrimination.
There’s the judge who asks a Black woman in court where her lawyer is. In fact, the woman is the lawyer waiting for her client.
A Middle Eastern woman takes a seat at an empty restaurant. A White customer who enters after her is served first.
And there’s the Indigenous man who is followed around by wary employees at a drugstore. He is shopping for formula for his toddler.
We also need to recognize that discrimination often exists in the behaviour and the systems that shape everyday life in Ontario. That’s one major reason why the proportion of Black and Indigenous People in jails is so much higher than their proportion in the population. And that’s in part why, in our schools, Black, Brown and Indigenous students face higher discipline rates than other students.
Whether unintentional or intentional, overt or subtle, the effects are harmful and demoralizing. Racism and racial discrimination happen every day – and we need to challenge them every day.
Ingrained stereotypes, prejudices and bias can lead to subtle forms of differential treatment, which can profoundly damage people’s lives.
Our Human Rights Code evolved in part from the Ontario Racial Discrimination Act of 1944. Despite these laws existing for more than 60 years – and despite our concerted efforts to advance human rights – racism and racial discrimination continue to persist and taint all facets of our society.
We often view Ontario as a global model of multiculturalism and inclusion. In many ways this is true, yet higher rates of unemployment and poverty, underrepresentation in positions of power, and overrepresentation in jails are facts of life for many racialized Ontarians, particularly Black and Indigenous people.
Tomorrow, the world will celebrate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which commemorates the tragic events of March 21, 1960 in Sharpeville, South Africa. Sixty-nine peaceful demonstrators were killed by police while protesting against apartheid. Canada was one of the first countries to support the United Nations initiative calling to overcome racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance.
While the OHRC and its many partners have done a lot of work to reduce barriers many racialized Ontarians face, the path to true equality has been slow, and much more work needs to be done.
Ontarians must recommit to the goal of eliminating the conditions that breed prejudice for a fair and equal society. We must start by examining and understanding our own personal biases and structural, systemic barriers. Then we must work together to remove racial discrimination whenever and wherever we see it – where we live, where we work, where we get our services, and in many cases where we play.
Our society can only succeed when everyone can take part – regardless of racial differences. And everyone should be able to contribute without fear of being singled out, treated differently or made to feel unwelcome. I challenge all Ontarians to work together to bring down barriers so that future generations can flourish.
Interim Chief Commissioner
Ontario Human Rights Commission