Federal and municipal governments must back up recent condemnations of systemic racism in Canadian institutions with the money and structural changes needed to actually eradicate it, two experts say.
The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson was joined on Sunday by Ottawa city councillor Rawlson King and Indigenous children’s advocate Cindy Blackstock to discuss the growing pressure on governments to move beyond condemnations towards action on dismantling systemic racism.
It comes on the heels of weeks of anti-racism protests in Canada and the U.S. galvanized by the death of George Floyd, a Black American man who died after a Minnesota police officer knelt on his neck for close to nine minutes during an arrest.
“Even now, we have the federal government who, at the same time while they’re admonishing systemic racism in other institutions, are actually perpetrating racial discrimination,” said Blackstock.
She pointed to the chronic underfunding of Indigenous children in care along with family separations and the continuing existence of the Indian Act despite promises to repeal it.
“They themselves have to embrace this opportunity for change.”
King, who represents the Ottawa municipal ward of Rideau-Rockcliffe, said commitments to change have to come with a commitment to provide “real resources” — in other words, money.
“I think what we need to do is have a really comprehensive view of where we’re placing dollars,” he said when asked what specific kinds of action he wants to see.
“What most police services I think would tell you, including the senior leadership at the Ottawa police service, is that we do need investments — greater investments — in communities, especially communities that are becoming more vulnerable and becoming more marginal.”
King said that means mental health resources, youth programming and programs that can work in conjunction with police services and the public.
“The key for us should be ensuring the quality of life for people and ensuring our youth do not get wrapped up unnecessarily in the criminal justice system,” said King, who was unanimously named the Ottawa city council’s new liaison for anti-racism and ethnocultural relations last week.
Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough said while the government has been working to try to support vulnerable groups throughout its mandates, critics are fair in pointing out that there is much more work to do.
“They’re right. We haven’t done enough,” she said.
“We’ve not done nothing, but we certainly need to do more and I hope what comes out of the last couple of weeks is a renewed commitment to act.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said recognizing systemic racism isn’t only about specific cases of violence but about realizing that “there is unfairness built into our system.”
“It is recognizing that the systems we have built over the past generations have not always treated people of racialized backgrounds, of Indigenous backgrounds, fairly,” he said.
“That’s why it’s so difficult to address, is it does require us to look at the very foundational building blocks of the institutions in our country.”
Blackstock said she hopes the government uses the opportunity to follow through on its commitments to implementing the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission along with those from the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
“We know better. The government knows better, so let’s do better,” she said.
“These are solutions we don’t have to create.”