OTTAWA—The Trudeau Liberals are being told to be careful in how they frame a national dialogue on racism to ensure it focuses on solutions, instead of sparking a contentious debate that could thwart federal efforts.
The Liberals soon will launch consultations on a national anti-racism strategy promised in February's budget.
Heritage minister Melanie Joly, who will oversee the work, said the government wants to “find real solutions to real problems,” particularly on fundamental rights, access to justice, and jobs.
Previous efforts to talk about racism have not gone well. Concerns about free speech forced their way into discussions around a House of Commons' motion condemning Islamophobia.
Similarly, the Quebec government's plan to consult on systemic racism was met with objections that forced the province to tone down its plans.
MP Greg Fergus, chair of Parliament's black caucus, said federal consultations must ensure debate doesn't devolve into accusations of racism but rather examine how discrimination manifests itself.
“Systemic racism exists in Canada,” Fergus said in French after a Liberal caucus meeting.
“We're much better than other societies around the world but . . . we still have our flaws.”
A recent House of Commons' committee study on combating Islamophobia and systemic discrimination and racism recommended the government craft a national anti-racism strategy—which will happen as part of $23 million in spending over two years for multiculturalism programs.
The committee also pushed the government to do a better job of collecting and analyzing data on diversity and inclusion, which Statistics Canada received $6.7 million to do over five years.
Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said he wanted the government to take actions like reforming the justice system—noting the disproportionate number of black and indigenous peoples in Canada's prisons—and improve access to education for marginalized communities.
“It's not a problem to study, but it's a problem if you only study all the time but don't have actions,” Singh told reporters in French.
“We want the government to act.”
Yesterday marked the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which the United Nations decreed in 1966 should fall every year on March 21, the anniversary of a deadly crackdown on an anti-apartheid rally in South Africa in 1960.
A survey released by the Association of Canadian Studies to coincide with the day suggests concerns remain about racism in the country.
About half of respondents in an online web panel said they believed racism was a serious problem in their province.
The results also suggest respondents who have more contact with different minority communities tended to have more favourable views towards those communities—a finding especially true for younger respondents, said Jack Jedwab, the association's president.
The survey also offers insight into how non-indigenous Canadians view their role in efforts to foster reconciliation with indigenous peoples and accept responsibility for the historic injustices.
Asked whether “all Canadians” should share responsibility for past wrongs like the residential school system, 48.5 percent of respondents said they either somewhat or strongly agreed with the premise—similar levels to last year.
Newcomers and children of immigrants who were part of the survey were more likely to see reconciliation with indigenous peoples as a collective issue for the country to address, perhaps as the result of an emphasis on indigenous history in Canada's citizenship guide.