Grenada-born Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Member of Parliament for Whitby, Ontario and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development, vividly recalls a conversation she had with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shortly after she attended the black government leaders’ summit in Toronto last summer.
“When I returned to Ottawa, I immediately called the prime minister and a few days later I was in his office talking to him about the International Decade for people of African descent and what would Canada’s role be in recognizing the decade and implementing policy that would help the Black community.”
What followed was an official acknowledgement by Prime Minister Trudeau of “systemic racism” in Canada which the black community faces, she told the Caribbean Camera in an interview at her constituency office in Whitby.
(“Systemic racism” occurs when an institution or set of institutions working together creates or maintains racial inequity. It is often caused by hidden institutional biases in policies, practices and processes that privilege or disadvantage people based on race. )
She said at a recent event in Ottawa to observe Black history month, the prime minister not only acknowledged ” systemic racism” in Canada but noted that ” there is work to be done ” to deal with this problem.
And she hastened to add,” the work has already started.”
Caesar-Chavannes, a former parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Trudeau, spoke of several initiatives of the Liberal government now underway to combat “”systemic racism.”
Noting that there is an ” over-representation” of Black people and Indigenous people in the ” criminal justice system,” she said one important initiative is the government’s review of the system.
” Depending on where you go in Canada, you will find an over-representation or over-incarceration of Black and Indigenous people in federal penitentiaries. Now we are trying to find out what are the systemic barriers that are causing this over-representation,” she pointed out.
( Recent figures show that while African Canadians are about three per cent of the population of Canada, more than ten per cent of the inmates of federal prisons in Canada are African Canadians.)
Caesar-Chavannes also noted that the Liberal government is strengthening hate crime legislation and “we have also expanded the ” safe community funding.'”
As she explained, this funding will be made available to certain places of worship and community centers in targeted communities to provide surveillance and to put systems in place so that people in those communities will feel safer.
The Whitby MP also noted the recent announcement by Heritage Minister Melanie Joly of a $5.5-million grant ” to strengthen communities and build up their multicultural inclusiveness.”
” This is especially important for our young people,” she noted.
While Caesar-Chavannes was happy to report on the Liberal initiatives to combat “systemic racism,” she conceded that there is still a lot more to be done.
” For example, there has to be a systems-wide policy approach which deal with issues such as gender equality and diversity, she suggested.
She also threw out a challenge to the black community to continue to make representations to government for what it felt is needed to get rid of ” systemic racism.”