If one were to look at the United States right now, one would think it is the epicenter for racism in the world. Admittedly, the U.S. has treated their African American community like second class citizens, and it continues to this day. While they certainly appear to be the extreme example, the U.S. certainly has company. Speaking about my birthplace, I can tell you racism in Canada is much worse than our stereotypical “nice people” persona would suggest.
Prejudice within Canada can be a little different depending where you live. Where I’m from the most common bigotry derives from language. English and French. I will not get into the long history here, but it is safe to say many Canadians have a dislike for the (French) Quebec province. Those French Quebecers have a dislike for English people, even in their own province. In Quebec there exists a type of French supremacy. If you think I’m joking, read up on Quebec’s “language police”
Read More: Montreal: International City or Hub of Hate?
Language aside (I could write books about it), when talking about black people and Canada in the same sentence, most Americans, and even Canadians, think of the underground railroad. A smuggling operation that allowed American slaves to escape their masters in the south. Although Canada was still a British colony at the time, it is a proud Canadian heritage moment. People avoid the fact however, that Canada had slaves as late as 1834 when the British abolished slavery.
Following slavery, Canada did a much better job assimilating former slaves into the rest of society. Black people had more freedom than their U.S. counterparts. Still, we are also comparing ourselves to a country that did next to nothing. In Canada, hatred and ignorance toward black people was passed down for generations just the same.
The Ku Klux Klan had chapters throughout Canada. Birth of a Nation was just as popular north of the border as it was south of it. Even segregation existed, though not rampant within major cities. In 1920s Montreal for example, it was not uncommon for black men to have white wives.
Canadian politicians could be just as disgraceful as their American counterparts. Canada acted to restrict immigration by black people, a policy Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier formalized in 1911:
“His excellency in Council, in virtue of the provisions of Sub-section (c) of Section 38 of the Immigration Act, is pleased to Order and it is hereby Ordered as follows: For a period of one year from and after the date hereof the landing in Canada shall be and the same is prohibited of any immigrants belonging to the Negro race, which race is deemed unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada.”
The immigration policy stayed on the books until 1962. Decades after the African Canadian community helped Canada fight in two world wars. Lucky for Canadians, we are reminded of this racist policy every time we see Wilfrid Laurier grace our five dollar bills. As a result of the harsh Immigration policies, black Canadian populations are only now beginning to grow. It now stands at 3.5% but has doubled in the last 20 years.
In the modern era, we have hate crimes, police beatings, even murders, and they happen disproportionately to blacks, same as in the U.S. Police fatalities among Black Canadians is as high as 9% (despite the low population). Blacks are stopped by police twice as much as whites.
Racism is not confined to one remote area it’s national, nor is it confined to one race. Much like the United States, hatred/ignorance also continues to consume our conservative parties.
The other day, Former Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day felt the need to resign from his post at the CBC for insinuating that systemic racism did not exist in Canada. Small potatoes when you consider last year’s national election. It revealed the Conservative Party’s Andrew Scheer and far-right anti-immigrant candidate Maxime Bernier had close ties to white nationalists and far right radio.
The truth is, racism in Canada goes deeper than color, sorry, colour. Quebec’s Premier won election based largely on an anti-immigrant/anti-Muslim platform that the majority of Quebecers supported. This was despite a far-right nationalist gunning down six Muslims at a Quebec mosque in fear of Muslim immigration a year earlier.
These days, racism towards blacks goes largely under-reported as our preoccupation with immigrants and Muslims dominate our news cycles. I have to imagine that those who are racist towards one race that make up 3.5% of the population are equally prejudice towards one religion that make the same percentage.
Well, I can tell you firsthand that racism is rampant in the immigrant and Muslim communities. I married a Muslim Iranian immigrant. She may not be religious, she may be a Canadian citizen now, but that does’t matter. Her complaints from her job in small town Quebec alone are frequent and discouraging to say the least.
Whether you’re black, English, French, Muslim, Jewish, Chinese or a Native Canadian, this is the world and countries in which we live. It might be the 21st century, but some things never change. If we are to defeat Racism, prejudice, and fascism, it needs to be called out constantly. It should not take 21 seconds just to ignore the question. Tackling these issues takes real, strong leadership. I’ll be damned if I can find it.
Photo by Brandon Piper//MyMuskokaNow