Anti-racism minister: ‘Lot of work’ needed here
There is a lot of work to be done in Hamilton, concludes Ontario’s anti-racism minister after spending a day in the city.
Michael Coteau, who is also the minister of children and youth services, talked with about 20 people aged 30 or younger Thursday about their experiences with intolerance.
Racism has always been in Hamilton, said Coteau. There is just more awareness since the U.S. election in November.
He believes education is the best way to combat it.
Coteau talked with The Spectator on Friday about how Hamilton can be part of the solution. This interview has been edited for length.
What were the main messages from the meetings in Hamilton Thursday?
The big message I got from the people is that there is a lot of work to be done in Hamilton. The young people I spoke to talked about some of the challenges they have. The pieces around Islamophobia and other forms of racism were brought up. The biggest piece that was brought forward is that Hamilton wants to be part of this provincial solution and they have a lot to contribute.
You went on a tour in the fall. What were the main things you found?
We learned about feelings and attitudes around anti-black racism, indigenous racism and Islamophobia, which seems to be rising here in the province. The things I would say that came out the most in all our consultations, including Hamilton, is that you have to focus on awareness and public education … Municipalities need to be part of the provincial solution and the antiracism directorate really needs to be set up in a way that allows for it to survive the changes of government.
How have your strategies to combat racism changed since the U.S. election?
We saw what happened in Quebec. We see the rhetoric that is coming out of the United States. But let’s make no mistake, I was in Hamilton in the fall and I went to the mosque that young men tried to firebomb. These types of acts of hatred exist in Ontario and they have existed for years. There is probably a heightened sense of awareness. I’m not sure if there is an increased amount of incidents. But I do know people are sharing more information now about these incidents that are taking place. I think now more than ever is the time for us to continue to move in this direction.
What do you see as the best solutions?
The No.1 thing we heard across the province that I would agree with is public education and awareness … Getting people aware of the fact that in Canada every single person outside of our indigenous community has a newcomer past. It could be two or three hundred years or it could be two or three years, but we all come from somewhere else. It is having people understand that when we do have newcomers coming here, they are doing the same thing my parents did or someone’s grandparents did. It’s to find a better life for their children, their future and themselves.
We’ve had a lot Syrian refugees come to Hamilton — more than 1,100. Have you found issues with racism toward this group?
You hear it constantly where people say, “We should take care of ourselves before we take care of other people” or “There are too many refugees coming in.” You hear that type of rhetoric all the time … We have 250,000 people coming in each year to this country. They are all newcomers and they are all from different parts of the world. As Canadians, the best thing we can do to continue to build a strong economy, to build a strong country and to share those values, is to really embrace those people and look for ways to make sure they are set up for success.
The Spectator’s Joanna Frketich spoke with Michael Coteau, Ontario’s anti-racism minister. Coteau is also minister of children and youth services.