Ontario government unveils 3-year plan to battle racism
2017/03/09 Leave a comment
More ambitious and extensive than I had expected.
Particularly important is the emphasis on collecting race-based data as well as a race-based lens (the federal government could learn from this: Canadian Heritage, responsible for multiculturalism, to note):
The provincial government has announced a sweeping new plan for tackling systemic racism that includes Ontario’s first anti-racism legislation, $47 million for black youth, and a framework for collecting race-based data — something community activists have long demanded.
The “pan-government” strategy — developed over the last year by the province’s still-fledgling anti-racism directorate — was unveiled Tuesday at a crowded news conference attended by the Attorney General and several cabinet ministers.
In his remarks, Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau, who heads the directorate, promised “concrete steps” to end systemic racism in government institutions.
One of these steps is proposed legislation to be introduced this spring — which, if passed, will mandate the collection of race-based data across multiple sectors, including child welfare, education, health and justice. Another is a new framework to apply an anti-racism lens to future policies and programs.
The “A Better Way Forward” strategic plan highlighted specific barriers faced by black youth, who will become the beneficiaries of a four-year, $47-milllion “action plan” aimed at reducing disparities and helping them succeed. “I want black youth in this province to know that their lives matter,” Coteau said.
The plan also calls for education initiatives and public awareness campaigns — something Coteau believes is “especially needed when we talk about Islamophobia.”
“Our government is ready to take responsibility and to make change,” Coteau said. “It’s taken us decades to get to this point. And I believe that it’s never too late for us to correct our course.”
The anti-racism directorate was formed to “address racism in all its forms” in February 2016 — 10 years after the Ontario government first passed legislation that enabled them to create an office for tackling systemic racism.
The directorate fills a long-time void left by the province’s former anti-racism secretariat, which was killed in the mid-1990s by the Progressive Conservative government at the time.
In February 2016, Premier Kathleen Wynne said the need for an anti-racism directorate had “sharpened” in recent times, pointing to ongoing issues like police carding and the debate over Syrian refugees.
Arguably, the need has since become more acute. In the hours before the anti-racism strategy was unveiled, news broke of bomb threats made against Jewish community centres in Toronto and London.
Tuesday’s threats come on the heels of several other, troubling events: the Quebec City mosque shooting in January; last week’s bomb threat against Muslim students at Concordia University; and a string of racist and anti-Semitic vandalism attacks, to name a few.
The anti-racism directorate has spent the past year holding a series of emotionally-charged public meetings across Ontario, meeting with community members everywhere from Toronto to Thunder Bay.
Last July in Toronto — where the first of 10 meetings was held — a crowd of more than 1,000 people packed Daniel’s Spectrum in Regent Park. Some criticized the province for only allocating $5 million to the anti-racism directorate and the crowd periodically broke out into chants of “black lives matter.”
Attendees expressed frustration over what they described as an endless cycle of proposed — and failed — initiatives to address systemic racism in Ontario.
“There hasn’t been a time in the last 50 years when we have not marched on the streets of Toronto calling — calling out, calling out, calling out — to put an end to racism,” said Akua Benjamin, a longtime black activist and professor with Ryerson University.
“There hasn’t been a time when we have not faced (policymakers) — whether it is the Liberals, whether it is the NDP, whether it is the Conservatives — around this issue of racism. And so here we are again.”
On Tuesday, some community members again expressed skepticism of the new strategy, especially with a provincial election looming.
But the mood was markedly more optimistic. While Avvy Go was disappointed by the strategy’s lack of focus on employment inequities, she was heartened by the strategy’s embrace of race-based data collection.
“The collection of disaggregated data is foundational to the success of any anti-racism strategy,” said Go, a founding member of the Colour of Poverty campaign and director of the Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic.
“Without such data, we simply cannot properly measure the progress over time of any plan that the government might choose to adopt and implement.”
Donna Harrow, executive director of the Alexander Park Community Centre, also stood up to thank Coteau for his work with the directorate.
Harrow has seen many government promises come and go in her 40-some years of black activism. But this new strategy, she believes, “is different.”
“This is the first time that they have actually named systemic racism (and committed) funds to African-Canadian young people who have not had an equitable chance in our society,” she said.
“For the first time, I can say that someone from the Ontario government has listened and has acted for a specific group of people — my specific group of people.”