By Yvonne Sam
For the multiplicity of times that I have given thought of where Canada, and her provinces, stands as it relates to race relations, I am immediately reminded of a marriage in crisis. Here is the root of the problem. One spouse is committed to making the marriage work, while the other party is resistant to, or non-committal about, the eventual outcome.
Needless to state, that unless there is some form of mediation or timely intervention, the marriage is on a collision course.
In race relations in our nation, the two major groups in question don’t really have the option of walking away from each other. In Quebec for example, Blacks and Whites have got to find a way to make the marriage work.
The known facts and the displayed acts
Following recently-concluded consultations, October 17-21, in Quebec, Nova Scotia and Ontario, the United Nations Working Group on People of African Descent issued a statement that shed light on realities and actualities that are seemingly far too often invisible to most Canadians, and which, according to them, should be viewed as a national shame.
Preliminary findings by the group corroborated an already well-known and established fact that systemic racism exists across Canada. As a result of these inherent inequalities, the incarceration rates have risen sharply — more Black individuals are subjected to racial profiling by law enforcement, disproportionate poverty and ill health, and the over-apprehension of Black children by youth protection agencies.
Let not my conscious thinking dismiss this study and its findings as being a strategic exercise in futility. Nevertheless, the lingering question still remains, What were the investigators hoping to unearth? Were they expecting to make a new discovery/revelation? Or were the known truths being brought home under a come-see-for- yourself guise?
On a note of irony, the U. N Working Group is not the first to point out these injustices, nor is it the only one proposing remedial solutions. The findings and recommendations of the Working Group will be presented in a report to the U N Human Rights Council in September 2017.
Kin determined by the colour of your skin?
No longer can Blacks continue to exist on repeated empty gestures and bankrupt proposals, for it is blatantly apparent that Canada has still to figure out how to placate slavery or the position that people of color occupy among the ranks of those called citizen.
Every now and then, an incident or series of circumstances have served to disturb the waters, causing acrimony and hostility to surface.
Blacks have their underlying anger at the rash of police-involved killings of unarmed men, and ongoing discrimination and racial hostility they face due to the color of their skin.
Whites, on the other hand, are battling concerns that immigrants are taking resources that they think is due to them.
Is a change out of range?
The United Nations Working Group has urged the Canadian government to put in place an African Justice Strategy, geared to deal with the issue of anti-Black racism and discrimination within the criminal justice system.
Canada is by no means a post-racial paradise, nor a tribal wasteland, but a change may be out of range.
For a change to be effective, Canada must agree that from its very inception and being, it created and worked under a system that flourished on inequality, racial bias and a plethora of inequities that disproportionately affected minorities. This may be easier said than done.
Steps to Progress
First steps have always been considered to be important ones, and the first step towards not only real change, but also healing, begins with honesty.
Each and every occasion that something racial raises its ugly head, a cry for a “national conversation” follows, which lasts for a brief moment and then fades into oblivion until the next incident.
An issue such as race relations that require brutal honesty often fails to be accorded the attention it merits.
Mending and Ending
Canada can no longer disregard the elephant in the room—her still living legacy of Black enslavement. She must confront the animal head on and genuinely deal with the injustices and inequalities brought to light by the U.N Working Group, as well as those highlighted by Black activists around the country.
At this time in the history of the world, the issue of race relations must be looked at through a different prism, taking into full account the proven fact that race relations involve much more than merely getting along.
We must unite and work together towards making Canada a truly post-racial society: one that is associated with a just and equitable criminal justice system; protection of the rights of residents in marginalized communities; significant investments to better conditions in underserved communities; equal pay; and the absence of marginalization on account of color or sexual orientation.
The marriage must work. Divorce is not an option. Each partner has said “I do” and, as such, must be held accountable.
Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is Vice-president of the Guyana Cultural Association of Montreal. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.