On June 18, 2020, the news media announced that Canada had reached 100,000 COVID-19 cases. As in most countries, the coronavirus is getting the most government attention because of its ability to fill hospitals and lead to high rates of death in the elderly and people with underlying health conditions. It is easy to put important challenges on the back burner when a pandemic arrives, but a pandemic has nothing to do with long-term problems needing solutions. One day a COVID-19 vaccination will be available, and the virus will go into the history books.
During the pandemic, important events have been unfolding. Protests have been taking place in the United States with African-Americans calling for an end to racism. It was prompted by the death of more than one unarmed black man by the police during an arrest. The U.S. protests caught the world on fire, including Canada. In early June, Canadians from coast to coast also demonstrated against police brutality and racism in general and racism against Aboriginals and visible minorities (referred to as people of colour) in particular.
Racism in any form creates a climate of distrust and hurts people in many ways. One of its most obvious and painful ways is when someone dies because of it. However, the impacts of discrimination, bias or racism (whatever you want to call it) extend deep into communities and have longer-term consequences that build barriers to creating a just society. Indigenous Corporate Training, a training company founded by Bob Joseph (Gwawaenuk Nation member), lists the key issues of Indigenous people. They have higher risk of chronic disease and early death; lower levels of education that reflect a history of demoralizing assimilation as a national experiment; poor housing conditions on-reserve; lower income levels; and higher rates of unemployment and incarceration.
Visible minorities, Canadian born and immigrants, are subjected to bias also, especially in the workplace. Many face discriminatory hiring practices. Their foreign credentials and foreign work experience are not accepted. Language barriers make others shy away from including them in communication processes. They are excluded from career opportunities. Many visible minorities also face some of the same issues as Aboriginals in terms of things like a lower income level and marginalization in society.
Our message is simple during this time of virus trauma. The work of the Canadian governments need to continue to ensure the progress made is not lost in efforts to end racism or discrimination. It is an important issue that directly impacts Canadians today and into the future, especially if solutions are not found. This is a time to seize the moment for pursuing equity and justice for Aboriginals and visible minorities.
The source of their issues may be different. Aboriginals are indigenous people and have a long history of being ignored or mistreated by past federal administrations and big companies that ravaged their cultural heritage lands for mining purposes. Visible minorities continue to struggle for fair and equal treatment in the workplace as they are often hired into jobs below their skill level and are frequently held back from career advancement.
However, the two groups have a common underlying problem - bias against people of colour that stops them from enjoying equal social and economic opportunities as members of society.
Senator Donald Oliver, an African-Canadian, said, “Racism is not something readily discernable by the senses: you cannot see it, hear it, smell it, touch it, but it does exist. It is subtle, invisible, and ethereal.” Though what he says is true, we believe that racism can be clearly seen through tangible things like on-reserve living conditions, lack of equal employment opportunities, poor health, under-funded schools, pay inequities, and all the other challenges of indigenous people and people of colour face. It can be heard, too, in the form of racial slurs and inappropriate workplace jokes.
DiversityCanada Magazine does not condone violence, but we do understand the protests of frustration and despair. Canada is a country rich in diversity and natural resources. This is an historical moment to bring real change, to not just talk about racism but to end it. The hope for change really lies with the younger generations who are loudly and clearly saying that enough is enough and are actively working for a truly inclusive Canada. Governments and corporations must join them and not resist them because the younger generations will be the people who decide what the future looks like.