Racism dominates rights forum

By Gerald V. Paul

Canada bears a heavy legacy of racial discrimination because of its history which can still be seen in current society where “racism is entrenched at all levels,” a recent panel discussion was told.

Margaret Parsons
Margaret Parsons

Margaret Parsons, executive director of African Canadian Legal Clinic, told the Dialogue on the Decade for People of African Descent panel at the Human Rights Form at Osgoode Hall Conference Centre that “in the past stereotypes of Black people were used to justify slavery and segregation.

“Today, they provide the basis for discriminatory policies and practices such as over-policing of African descendent communities, police brutality, disparities in sentencing, disproportionate discipline of African descendent students and failure to implement policies to address disparities in employment, economics and education which result in the intergenerational transmission of poverty,” Parsons said.

“African descendent women and girls also suffer compounded discrimination and disparities based on their intersecting status of race or ethnicity and gender.”

Parsons was a speaker along with Dr. Rosemary Sadlier and Prof. Michelle Williams on the panel. She called the situation for African Canadians invariably worse than that of non-racialized individuals.

Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, UN Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons of African Descent and against Racial Discrimination, told the forum “although Canada portrays itself as a leader in equality and human rights, racism is entrenched at all levels of Canadian society.”

Antoine, with dual citizenship of Saint Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago, cited Dr. Doudou Diene, UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, upon his visit to Canada this year:

“Canadian society is still affected by racism and racial discrimination. Because of its history, Canadian society as in all countries of North and South America, carries a heavy legacy of racial discrimination, which was the ideological prop of trans-Atlantic slavery and of the colonial system.”

The form was the introduction of the African Canadian Legal Clinic (ACLC) statement to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, IACHR, Commissioner and Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons of African Descendants and against Racial Discrimination.

The ACLC’s motto is Promoting Justice, Defending Equality, Building Community.

Parsons noted racism experienced by Black people is often worse than that of other racialized individuals. “Unemployment among African Canadians is 74% higher than the national unemployment rate. Evidence of widespread discrimination against African Canadians by potential employers is overwhelming and the casual link between unemployment and poverty does not require explanation. In 2006 – the last year for which disaggregated data was collected – African Canadians accounted for 5.8% of all people living in poverty yet only accounted for 2.5% of the total Canadian population.”

With regards to the justice system, African descendants understandably perceive it as biased and unfair, the forum heard. This perception, grounded in empirical fact, has been documented by social science researchers and is recognized by Canadian courts.

The year 2012 marked the 20th anniversary of the acquittal of police officers who shot and killed unarmed African Canadian teenager Michael Wade Lawson. Parsons said the jury sent a clear message that profiling and brutalizing of young Black men is acceptable.

“Broad and systemic issues are at the heart of the current dysfunctional relationship between the justice system and African Canadians,” Parsons said.

Among key recommendations directed to ameliorating the situation of African Canadians were development of a living wage; enhancing and enforcing protections for African Canadians and other vulnerable workers and investment in funding for targeted job skills programs.

The forum also called for the elimination of racial profiling, saying, “It is recommended that governments adopt national and provincial measures, including legislation and external complaint mechanisms, to end racial profiling by law enforcement and national security agencies and develop an effective action plan towards eliminating the disparity in rates of arrest, sentencing and incarceration of African Canadians, including such things as sentencing and incarceration of African Canadians, including such things as sentencing reforms and training on anti-Black racism for members of the police, Crown prosecutors, and members of the judiciary. The disproportionate police practice of stopping and documenting people (aka “carding”) and racial profiling are inextricable intertwined.”

Participants also called for provision of culturally appropriate reintegration programming as most incarcerated offenders will eventually return to their home communities upon release. They recommended that Correctional Services expand rehabilitative and community-based programs and facilitate the provision of African centered and led programming in correctional facilities.

On education, they said disproportionate rates of discipline should be addressed.

With immigration, they called for equitable and enhanced immigration policies. “It is recommended that the government repeal Bill C-24 and instead strengthen protections for immigrants and refugees. To this end it is recommended that the government enhance rather than remove procedural protections based on nationality or other prohibited grounds.”

On reparations for historical injustices, primarily slavery and legal discrimination, the ACLC recommended the government apologize in the House of Commons for its role in slavery; the government should come up with a comprehensive plan to address systemic anti-Black racism from centuries of enslavement and other oppressive practices and the government in conjunction with civic society organizations investigate the possibility of monetary compensation for slavery, which is recognized as a crime against humanity by the UN.