A very encouraging sequence of events is currently evolving here in Canada that holds much promise for our black community, and for Canada as a whole.
Just last month, Montreal-based activist Robin Maynard published her book under the title “Policing Black lives in Canada”. The sub-title was even more direct and self-explanatory: “State Violence in Canada From Slavery to the Present”.
Maynard counters the overstated perception of Canada as a model of racial tolerance. She also maintains that state violence against black people is rooted in this country’s history of slavery.
Around that same time, the political analysis and life work of the late indigenous leader Arthur Manuel, was extensively detailed in a Toronto newspaper.
Manuel’s central argument is that white supremacy is the law of the land in Canada, because of the provisions of the British North America Act. He specifically cites Section 91:24 of this constitutional document (which established Canada as an independent country) as the basis on which “…the Canadian state claims the privilege of exercising 100 percent control over Aboriginal and treaty land and indigenous peoples”.
Then, earlier this month, the provincial government of Ontario presented a bill entitled, “The Safer Ontario Act”. This bill introduces a number of corrective measures intended to protect visible minorities, particularly black persons, from racial profiling, racist attitudes, illegal street checks (police carding), and the use of excessive force on the part of the police.
In that regard, the bill represents a comprehensive endorsement of the recommendations contained in the report of the “Independent Police Oversight Review” led by Justice Michael Tulloch earlier this year.
It is important to note that the black community of the Greater Toronto Area, played a major role in the consultations that led to the report and the bill. Several Black community organizations, including the Black Action Defence Committee, participated in both processes precisely, because of the clearly identified need to strengthen civilian oversight of Ontario’s police services and to make those law enforcement agencies more accountable.
The links that pull all those developments together in a build-up of momentum, is not lost on Robyn Maynard. She explicitly advanced this line of thought in a recent conversation with the media:
“The book looks into state violence and argues that the various state institutions we have today – the criminal justice, education and immigration systems – have all been fundamentally racist from their inception. The history of policing is incomplete if we don’t talk about the role of the precursor to the RCMP (North-West Mounted Police) in quelling the indigenous rebellion and controlling their movement in public spaces. Their histories are very intricately bound and tied up in one another.”
It is therefore easy to conclude that Arthur Manuel would willingly agree that both the indigenous and the black experiences in Canada, derive from colonialism and are rooted in racism.
Both communities can also recognize that there are fundamental differences between their respective experiences. While both have been overwhelmingly dehumanized and psychologically traumatized, the colonial era “powers-that-were” in Canada, appropriated as their own property the labour of the black slaves and the lands of the indigenous peoples.
The next challenge to be faced is how to move forward in reclaiming their entitlement to the fruits of their labour and to their lands. To which has to be added appropriate compensation and aggravated damages for their centuries of deprivation and of denial of human rights.
That full package and God’s face, we shall not see. Of those comprehensive demands, known as reparations, only a modest non-monetary part may ever enter our black lives.
However, all segments of Canadian government and civil society have a responsibility to avoid the risk of armed insurrection and military confrontation.
We cannot allow a repeat of the stand-off of 1990 (also known as the Oka Crisis) in which Mohawk protesters, with the armed support of Mohawks from the USA, faced down the Canadian government’s police and armed forces.
How many more must suffer? How many more must die? How much more violent confrontation must we live? How much more land must be illegally kept from their rightful owners?
It may be that the way forward must include the emancipation of white minds from the mental slavery of white privilege. This process will entail public information and education on the historical truths which are still too sparsely highlighted in the media and in the history books.
Out of public information comes acknowledgement of painfully relevant truths. Confession may still be far away, but recognition of the facts is a positive development.
Many black analysts hold the view that the black community in Canada, will only achieve equity in Canada when we begin to wield significant economic or political clout.
In that context, the time is politically ripe for a black/indigenous activists alliance in Canada.