When Canada Picks and Chooses its Racism
Trudeau’s blackface is offensive but it’s not life-threatening
Old photos of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wearing blackface on multiple occasions surfaced on the 18th and 19th of September 2019. Reactions ranged from extreme disappointment to forgiveness and understanding; regardless, the whole country was shaken up by the surprising revelation of our Prime Minister’s past.
As racist and untasteful this scandal is, it is not the worst racist thing currently happening in Canada. History confirms racism in Canada runs deep and is systemic. Systems that were designed to work against Indigenous people and people of colour, protected and furthered the advancement of white people.
White people are in denial and often feel uncomfortable when confronted with issues about racism in this country. They point fingers to our neighbour south of our border while acting morally superior. After all, Prime Minister Trudeau preaches Canada is all about “multiculturalism,” “diversity,” and “inclusion.” But is it?
You can find racism lurking in the corners of this great nation. Below are just a few examples of offensive and life-threatening racism that deserve the same outrage and extreme disappointment if not more.
Quebec's Bill 21
Quebec's Bill 21 is a secularism bill that will ban government employees like police and teachers from wearing religious symbols such as the Hijab, Kippah, and Sikh turban. The bill states that it wants to ensure equality among men and women. The Quebec minister for women expressed her belief that the hijab is oppressive to women.
This bill is a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms sections 1, 2, 7, 15, and 24. Quebec invoked the constitution's notwithstanding clause to prevent their bill from being dismissed on the basis that it has violated the charter of rights and freedom. However, constitution experts say that invoking the notwithstanding clause does not protect Quebec's Bill 21. The federal government can still pursue other legal avenues to stop the bill.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the other federal candidates have expressed their disagreement and distaste for the bill. But they have not released any plans to challenge the law if elected.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
"No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous people," said Trudeau a few days after he was sworn in as Prime Minister in 2015. Four years later, and Indigenous Peoples are still facing the same problems, and not much has changed.
The final report of the national inquiry looking into the missing and murdered indigenous women declared that the thousands of MMIW in recent decades are victims of "Canadian genocide." The inquiry found that Indigenous women are 12 times more likely to get murdered or go missing than any other demographic group in Canada. Additionally, they are 16 times more likely to get killed and go missing compared to white women. Although, there is no exact number of how many MMIW there are, some estimate that 4000 indigenous women have been murdered or disappeared over the past few decades.
While the story of the Prime Minister's racist past was breaking, a First Nation community in Northwestern Ontario was being evacuated due to water safety concerns. The Neskantaga First Nation was on a boil-water advisory for 25 years and may be the longest advisory to date. Grassy Narrows is another First Nation community in northwestern Ontario whose waters are poisoned by mercury, and most of the population are showing signs of poisoning. Residents are suffering from a wide range of debilitating health problems such as neuropsychological disorders, stomach, and intestinal problems, hearing loss, joint pain, blindness, and vision problems. There are currently hundreds of water advisories in Indigenous communities all over the country.
First Nations Child Welfare Discrimination
While Indigenous children account for 7.7 percent of all Canadian children, they make up 52.2 percent of all children in foster care. Indigenous children and youth are disproportionately overrepresented in the child welfare system. 40,000 to 80,000 children on reserves have been made wards of the state between 2006 and 2017. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordered Canada to pay maximum compensation of $40,000 to each First Nation child who has been wrongfully taken from their families and put in the care of the state since January 1st, 2006.
Canada likes to pick and choose what racist issues are more important. The blackface debacle is an opportunity to open a wider discussion about the real effects of racism in this country.