“Canada isn’t a racist country. It’s actually a safe haven for people of colour. Where all the immigrants are fully accepted and the native peoples are treated equally.”
Or so the myth goes.
In reality, it is a place where Justin Trudeau participating in blackface and, apparently, not knowing it was racist is pretty unsurprising. It is only the icing on the cake. A cake, that looks delicious but tastes horrible.
For starters, a lot of non-Canadians assume that Canada has not had black slavery. On the contrary, we have had over 200 years of it. We also had segregated schools, businesses and churches. Blackface has had a long history in Canada as well. Calixa Lavallée, the composer of ‘O Canada’, the Canadian national anthem, spent many years performing it.
Then there are also indigenous people’s issues.
Speaking about why indigenous children should be sent to residential schools, Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister said: “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with his parents who are savages; he is surrounded by savages… He is simply a savage who can read and write.” Residential schools have been known to have treated Indigenous children in horrific ways; researchers think more than 4,200 children may have died at residential schools. The last school closed only in 1996.
Of course, these things are in the past.
So, let us look at some newer examples of racism in Canada. Hate crimes in Canada peaked in 2017, and though they decreased in 2018, the number is still higher than any other year since 2009 (excluding 2017). And these are just the police reported ones.
Besides that, an Ipsos poll conducted earlier this year reveals nearly 50% of Canadians think having racist thoughts is normal. Carding has also become a big issue. Carding is when the police randomly approach and check people, which happens more to people of colour. Last year, the Ontario Human Rights Commission found that black people in Toronto are 20 times more likely to be killed in an encounter with the police than white people.
Throughout Canada, 56 First Nations still have long-term drinking water advisories, since they don’t get clean water in the reserves. And of course, I’m currently writing this article sitting on Indigenous land, which was stolen from them by colonisers, who herded the First Nations peoples into reserves like sheep.
Right now in Quebec, there is an actual law that does not let public service employees wear religious symbols at work. Bill 21 forces Muslim women who wear hijabs and work in the public services to take their hijabs off, same for Sikhs wearing turbans and Orthodox Jews who wear a yarmulke. No other major religions in the province have to wear something as part of their beliefs. This clearly targets certain marginalised groups. Recently, Jagmeet Singh, NDP leader, was told by a white man in Montreal, Quebec, to cut off his turban and look more Canadian.
In school, I’ve heard quite a bit of racist things, whether they’ve been said to me (an Indian-origin girl) or just been overheard by me. Even though for the most part, the students are not outright racist and would not support white supremacy or anything, a lot of the jokes they make and the conversations they have can be kind of problematic. Obviously, this is not a really big deal and does not actually make Canada a racist country. They’re just kids and don’t realise that what they’re saying is wrong. But, it still reflects on how they have not exactly been taught that it is not okay.
For example, a lot of people in my school like to talk randomly in what they perceive as Indian accents. There have been lots of curry jokes made too. A friend of mine has been told to “go eat your butter chicken”, since she is Indian. Someone also once said that Asian people are always rich and have expensive cars. I’ve heard a boy say to his friend, “Wait, I’ve never seen an Asian guy with facial hair. Have you?” To which the friend replied, “Yeah, of course. Those old men with the long beards.” They were being serious, I swear.
Finally, if someone like the Conservative Party leader, Andrew Scheer, is elected in the upcoming federal elections on October 21, 2019, that would be the final nail in the coffin. This is someone who at first, didn’t even acknowledge that Muslims were targeted in the New Zealand mosque shooting last year in March. Yet, it still looks like a tough competition between him and Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau. If Scheer were to win, it would truly showcase how Canada is not the tolerant and multi-cultural country we like to think it is.
I do not think Canada is a horrible place to live in or anything like that. In fact, I’m very thankful I get to live in this country, where we have so many rights and privileges. However, it is not perfect. And we can work towards improving it. I just want racism in Canada to be acknowledged and talked about, not just something that “exists, but barely” or is “much less in comparison to the United States”.
Dear Canada, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee.
Iman Mannathukkaren is 13-years old and is a Grade 8 student in Halifax, Canada.
Featured image credit: Reuters