Racism is ingrained in the fabric of Canada. Despite progress being made in recent years, it is still a widespread issue that is embedded in all areas of society — from schools to the workplace and even to the criminal justice system.
With awareness of racial inequality reaching new heights, these seven facts about racism in the criminal justice system, schools, workplace, and during the coronavirus pandemic will help you get more informed about how racism presents itself in Canada.
The criminal justice system is supposed to be unbiased, where everyone is treated fairly and equally. However, this is seldom the case, as the same discrimination that follows people of colour through the rest of their lives often turns up in the courtroom.
Indigenous Peoples have faced historic and modern injustices like colonialism, the loss of land rights, reservations, residential schools, and the Indian Act. These racist actions – and many more – have caused Indigenous Peoples to be disproportionately affected by poverty, education disparities, and food insecurity.
The prison system is another area in which Indigenous Peoples are disproportionately represented. Despite making up nearly 5 percent of the Canadian adult population, Indigenous adults account for 30 percent of federally incarcerated inmates. Indigenous women make up 48 percent of the female federal prison population.
A report conducted by Ivan Zinger, a federal corrections investigator, states that the Indigenous inmate population has increased by approximately 18 percent over the past decade. However, the number of non-Indigenous inmates has dropped by 28 percent in the same period. For those already incarcerated, another study showed that Indigenous men are 30 percent more likely than white men to be assigned the worst possible “reintegration potential score,” which plays a significant role in parole decisions.
Racism, including unconscious biases, in the juries, judges, and parole boards weighing in on court cases leads to higher rates of conviction and denial of parole. And as Cree lawyer Eleanore Sunchild puts it, the rising numbers show that the Canadian justice system doesn’t see Indigenous Peoples as human beings. “These numbers just reflect the ongoing systemic racism and battle our people face in the criminal justice system.”
In addition to possible mental health issues and loss of social connections, incarceration can cause severe financial instability. Once released, finding gainful employment can be hard. Studies show that employers are biased against individuals with a criminal record. For those who do find work, the average annual income is only $14,000, and it’s even worse for Indigenous Peoples due to systemic racism, with their average annual income being just over $10,000.
If Canada is to move forward in truth and reconciliation, serious work needs to be done in the criminal justice system.
The murders of George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Breonna Taylor, and many more sent shockwaves throughout the globe. And while many Canadian outlets covered these atrocities occurring in America, police brutality happening in our backyards is rarely televised.
Less than 9 percent of Toronto’s population is Black. But they are more likely than any other ethnic group to be arrested, charged, and killed by Toronto’s police, according to a report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. They found that Black Torontonians are 20 times more likely to be shot dead by the police than those who are white. Black residents are also over-represented in non-deadly force actions taken by the police, they are:
• Four times more likely to be pepper-sprayed
• Five times more likely to be tasered
• Six times more likely to be taken down by a police dog
And according to a survey of 1,500 Ontarians, 72 percent of Black Canadians report having experienced racial profiling, the act of being targeted and mistreated due to negative stereotypes associated with Black people.
The over-policing and abuse of power towards Black Canadians further highlights a systemic racism problem in Canada. And while many consider Canada to be “better” than America when it comes to race relations, we have a lot of work left to do before we can even begin to make that claim.
Schools are supposed to be where young Canadians can learn, make friends, and grow up together in a safe and encouraging environment. For children of colour, this is not always the case.
Racism in schools is something that has long stained Canada’s history, dating as far back as the establishment of residential schools where Indigenous children were stripped of and denied their cultural practices. And the racial segregation of Black children. Even today, racism continues, perpetuated not just by teachers and administrators but also by other children.
Bullying, racial biases in grading, and preferential treatment toward white children are only a few ways that racism expresses itself in our schools.
A 2019 study about peer-on-peer violence in Canadian schools surveyed more than 4,000 students from across the country and found that more than half of all students of colour experienced racist taunts. This includes being called racial slurs, being made fun of for their cultural background, and experiencing physical violence.
Schools are supposed to be a safe place for children, where they can socialize with their peers, cultivate hobbies and interests through extracurriculars, and learn the fundamental skills that will set them up for a lifetime of success. Racist bullying interferes with developing those skills by making students feel unsafe in class and ostracising them from their peers. The effects of bullying are well documented, with the victims of harassment in school experiencing increased depression and anxiety, a decrease in academic performance, and even physical health issues like increased headaches, abdominal pain, and sleep problems.
Despite having anti-bullying and anti-harassment plans in place, many schools fail to adequately address racist behaviours inflicte
Racial prejudices and stereotypes against Black people encourage the expectation that Black students are more disruptive and less hard-working than their non-Black peers. As a result, Black students are both disproportionately suspended and expelled from school, which hampers their education by setting them behind and making it difficult for them to catch up to their peers. Black students make up 48 percent of expulsions in Toronto high schools, while they only make up 12 percent of the student body; similarly, 42 percent of Black students are suspended at least once, compared to just 18 percent of their white peers.
Suspensions and expulsions are not the only ways that racism presents itself within the Canadian school system. Black students receive two times fewer “Excellent” ratings from their teachers, despite achieving the same scores on standardized tests as their fellow students.
Underrepresentation in the classroom also goes beyond students, as Black teachers only make up about 1.8 percent of Canada’s teaching staff, despite Black people making up 3.5 percent of the Canadian population. This lack of diversity among school staff can make Black students feel othered and discouraged, while unconscious bias in non-Black teachers can result in them seeing their Black students in a more negative light than their peers.
For people of colour, racism is a constant part of life. It follows them from childhood to school to the workforce, where racism can be as overt as open hostility or discrimination or as insidious as wage inequality or interview bias. These are just a few ways that racism can affect people of colour in the workplace.
The disparity of pay between racialized Canadians and their white peers is staggering: 81 cents for every dollar that a white employee would make on average. It’s even worse when looking at women, as it becomes 57 cents.
The average pay gap gets wider for immigrant workers of colour, as male first-generation racialized immigrants earn 69 cents for every dollar their white counterparts make, and female racialized immigrants receive an average of only 49 cents. Reduced wages, especially to such a staggering degree, lead to higher rates of racialized families living below the poverty line. In fact, 19.8 percent of racialized families in Canada live in poverty, compared to 6.4 percent of white families.
A study conducted by the University of British Columbia in 2009 revealed that job applicants with English-sounding names are 40 percent more likely to receive a request for an interview from employers. As such, ‘John Smith’ has an advantage over ‘Navjot Singh’, despite having identical education, skills, and experience. Furthermore, job applicants with mixed-heritage names, such as Vivian Zhang, have a 20 percent better chance of getting a job interview than applicants whose names aren’t English at all, though they still don’t compare to their peers whose names are fully English-sounding.
This unconscious bias toward candidates with non-English-sounding names, combined with the reality of the racial income gap paints a clear picture as to why racialized individuals are among the most likely to live below the poverty line. Without an English-sounding name, employers are more likely to disregard these job applicants before interviewing them, and their treatment does not become more fair or unbiased after being hired.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and heightened racism in many different ways. In particular, Asian Canadians and those of Asian descent have experienced an increase in racial discrimination and hate crimes.
Asian Canadians have been hit especially hard by racism during the pandemic, as many falsely believe them to be responsible for the spread of the virus. Due to this, the rates of hate crimes against Asian Canadians increased rapidly all over the country. Montreal saw an uptick of 30 percent in 2020, while Ottawa’s rates increased to 57percent, and Vancouver saw a staggering 97 percent increase. Nation-wide, Canada’s rates of hate crimes against this community went up 717 percent in 2020.
The hate crimes included acts of physical violence such as people shoving Asian Canadians to the ground, assault with a deadly weapon, and other forms of physical attacks. They also included verbal assault and harassment, which accounted for 73 percent of the hate crimes reported to and recorded by Fight COVID Racism –a project funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage. It’s also important to note that no age group or gender went unscathed. Elderly people were physically assaulted, and young children were asked by their peers about their involvement in spreading COVID-19.
The rise of hate crimes in Canada is the product of changed attitudes toward Asian Canadians since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent poll shows that 17 percent of Canadians feel that discrimination against Asians is more accepted — and acceptable — than it was five years ago. This is compared to only 13 percent of Canadians giving the same answer when the poll was conducted back in 2019. Although the statistic is based on a sample of 1,000 Canadians aged 18 or older, it points to a collective and dangerous belief many Canadians hold about Asians.
Racism is alive and well in Canada. We see it every day, from the criminal justice system to our schools to the workplace. It’s even impacting how we respond in times of crisis, as seen by the treatment of Asian Canadians. But we can do something about it. We can take a stand against racism today, in our own communities and online. Let’s work together to create a more just and equitable society for all people, regardless of race or ethnicity. One way you fight racism is by donating to our Anti-Racism Fund. It supports multiple programs that offer healing, promote inclusion, and advocate for concrete change. This includes community-building, research and education, intersectionality, and advocacy efforts. Help pave the way to a better future and stand with people of colour. Donate to the Anti-Racism Fund today.
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